‘We need to be at the table’: nominated Indigenous candidates near 2015’s record high

Of note (have added Indigenous percentage of riding populations):

With at least 43 Indigenous candidates running for federal office in 2019, the number is nearing the record-breaking 54 contenders in 2015, and almost doubling those nominated in 2011.

Most are running under a red banner, with 13 Indigenous people confirmed as Liberal candidates, followed by 11 for the NDP, eight for the Conservatives, seven for the Green Party, and three with the People’s Party, according to party-submitted numbers and a Hill Times analysis of public information. The PPC said it doesn’t have the resources to track demographics for its candidates.

That total is likely to increase, given the NDP and Liberals represented the bulk of nominations in 2015, for a combined 39 of the 54, and both have yet to nominate their full complement of candidates. The Liberals had named 231 out of 338 candidates as of July 29, and the NDP has less than half, with 130 names posted to its website as of Aug. 2.

The 2015 federal election saw a historic 10 Indigenous MPs elected and a historic number of Indigenous voters who cast ballots, with 61.5 per cent turnout on reserves, up from 47.4 per cent in 2011.

Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield, who is running in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C., [8.3 percent Indigenous] said she’s excited by the numbers, thinking about the opportunities that are available now to her 20-year-old daughter and the voice historically marginalized First Nations people can have in government.

First Nations people were denied the right to vote until 1960, and long after that children were taken from their homes and put into residential schools. Up to 2015, there had only been 34 Indigenous MPs elected since Confederation, and 15 Indigenous Senators appointed to the Red Chamber.

“All of these things compounded how people perceived the relationship with the Crown” and affected the perception of participation in politics among Indigenous people, said Ms. Corfield, a former chair of the Nanaimo Port Authority and the Ucluelet First Nation legislative council.

“For decades, people have been making legislation for them but without them, so in order for us to have a voice in significantly designing how legislation informs and impacts Indigenous people, we need to be at the table,” said Ms. Corfield, who’s been a Liberal since she could vote and is one of two Indigenous candidates running in the riding where Green MP Paul Manly won a byelection earlier this year.

‘My whole life is political’

While it’s difficult to pinpoint why record levels of Indigenous people have run for office over the last decade, Liberal candidate Trisha Cowie said she doesn’t have the option not to be political.

“My whole life is political,” she said, pointing to the Indian Act, which determines who has official First Nations status, and historically stripped it from those who fought in wars, pursued post-secondary education, or women who married non-First Nations men.

“It governs my identity to an extent, whether you’re on reserve or off reserve, when there’s a settlement. Everything is political. You could sit back and watch it unfold, but it’s all very personal, so it’s very difficult to do,” said Ms. Cowie who ran in the previous election in Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont., [5 percent Indigenous] coming less than five points behind Conservative-turned-Indpendent MP Tony Clement, who won’t run again.

“You can actually affect change from the inside instead of always fighting from the outside,” she said.

For the last two years NDP Winnipeg Centre, Man., [18.1 percent Indigenous] candidate Leah Gazan tried to work from outside Parliament, lobbying MPs and Senators to pass Bill C-262, enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights Of Indigenous Peoples into law. Ms. Gazan said it was “horrific” to watch the Senate effectively kill the bill in the waning days of the session, by not moving to put outgoing NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s (Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou, Que.) private member’s bill to a vote.

A few hundred kilometres away on the East Coast, Liberal candidate Jaime Battiste [Sydney-Victoria, 10.4 percent Indigenous] was equally frustrated by the outcome, following the weekly developments and delays with his father James Youngblood Henderson, who helped draft the 2006 declaration.

If the Liberals take a second mandate, Mr. Battiste, who is the first Mi’kmaq person to be on a federal ballot and would be Nova Scotia’s first-ever Indigenous member of Parliament, said he’s heartened by the party’s promise to make it a government bill—and therefore more likely to pass —while Ms. Gazan recalled the “years of stalling” by the Liberals before it moved forward.

When looking at the increasing number of Indigenous candidates running, she said it’s important to avoid drawing broad conclusions, because Indigenous people are often “lumped into one group with the same values,” said Ms. Gazan, who’s been fighting for human rights and on the front lines of climate justice for three decades.

The best match for her values, she said, was the NDP, which has several high-profile leaders on its ballot, including former vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Bob Chamberlin, and Grassy Narrows First Nation chief Rudy Turtle, who has said the Liberals haven’t done enough to help his community with the impacts of mercury poisoning.

Over the last decade, Ms. Gazan said political parties have approached her to run, but this time she said she felt the country is at “a critical juncture” and needed strong voices like hers, willing to speak truth to power.

Voting Liberal this election is “not the strategic vote,” a tactic she said helped take Winnipeg Centre from the NDP in 2015, because of the strong desire to boot former prime minister Stephen Harper. Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette beat out six-term New Democrat Pat Martin by a margin 26.5 percentage points in the previous election.

“This is one of the few ridings in the country that you can vote your conscience,” she said, and that’s the message her “community-based, community-led campaign” is giving. “I feel like our campaign is starting a movement and we are planning on getting this riding back.”

Lydia Hwitsum, who is running in Cowichan–Malahat–Langford, B.C., [9.4 percent Indigenous] for the Greens, also said without the strategic anti-Harper vote in play, her chances are better. One-term NDP MP Alistair MacGregor is running again after taking it in 2015 with 35.9 per cent of the vote, while the Greens came in fourth, with 16.9 per cent.

Born in 1964, Ms. Hwitsum is acutely aware that the right to vote came shortly before her lifetime. Cultural leaders like her “bright and brilliant” mother would never have had the chance to put their name on the ballot.

“The door’s open now and it wasn’t for them.”

So far, B.C. has the most Indigenous candidates running, with 10, followed by nine in Manitoba, and eight in Ontario. B.C.’s only Indigenous incumbent is Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal cabinet minister who will run as an Independent this time around in Vancouver Granville.

The Liberal candidates said they were saddened to see a powerful First Nations woman no longer with the party. In the midst of the SNC-Lavalin scandal and allegations the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her as attorney general, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet and later was booted from caucus.

Ms. Corfield said Ms. Wilson-Raybould made her choice and “knew the consequences of those choices,” while Mr. Battiste said “this election isn’t about Jody and Justin,” but the Conservative policies that had him protesting in the streets four years before.

At the December 2018 Assembly of First Nations national conference, Mr. Battiste said he stood up and asked Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) for one policy that made him different from Mr. Harper.

“And he couldn’t,” said Mr. Battiste, recalling how hundreds of chiefs booed his response that they’d have to wait until the party’s platform was released.

The “big move” by the Liberal party to open membership up made a difference during membership drives signing up supporters who helped him win the Sydney-Victoria, N.S., contested nomination a few weeks ago, said Mr. Battiste, showing the party is “taking strides to make sure Indigenous people are now more involved than ever in the political process.”

Indigenous voters “can be a swing vote in a riding,” said Mr. Battiste, a point the Assembly of First Nations has made to parties and politiciansthrough the 51 ridings it will target this election, 13 of which have Indigenous candidates running.

The Liberals will face their record on reconciliation, which Ms. Gazan said falls far short of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) promise as Canada’s most important relationship.

Four years can’t change 150 years of colonization, said Ms. Corfield.

“Maybe the expectations were set too high,” of the Liberals, but like Mr. Battiste she said this government has done more than any previous. Legislation addressing Indigenous languages and child welfare, and progress on boil water advisories are all signs of progress, they said.

In early March, before Mr. Battiste decided to run for the party, he captured some of that frustration in a Chronicle Herald op-ed, coming to the same conclusion he offers today: more Indigenous candidates must get politically involved.

“The only way to decolonize some of the processes of government is by having more Indigenous voices,” he said.

Source: ‘We need to be at the table’: nominated Indigenous candidates near 2015’s record high

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: