2021-09-18 02:56:00 Indigenous Issues Sidelined As Canada Election Day Nears

Indigenous Issues Sidelined As Canada Election Day Nears

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 36-day snap election approaches on Monday, the Liberals and Conservatives remain statistically tied in the polls.

It’s been a largely uninteresting campaign with few high points, and an English-language debate that was widely panned for employing a format that stifled debate.

To a large extent, this election is still about the need for an election. Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader I profiled this week, and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democrats both continue to call the pandemic election call unnecessary and unwise in the midst of a public health emergency. (My article on Mr. Trudeau and his campaign will be published this weekend.)

[Read: Canada’s Top Conservative Leans Left to Unseat Trudeau]

No other issues arose to the point where any party leaders were able to significantly reshape the campaign. In addition, many important topics were given short shrift.

Indigenous issues were one of those that were overlooked.

The discovery of former students’ remains in unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May, then elsewhere in the following weeks, shocked many Canadians who live outside of Indigenous communities and reignited a national debate about reconciliation. However, for the most part, that discussion did not carry over to the campaign.

Mr. Singh and other candidates have accused Mr. Trudeau of failing to provide safe drinking water to all Indigenous communities during his first five years in office.

“It’s not a lack of capacity, it’s not a lack of technology, and it’s not a lack of money, because we have the resources. “We can do it,” Mr. Singh said during a visit to the Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario. “So, what exactly is it?” I don’t believe for a minute that it’s anything other than political will.”

Mr. Singh has provided few details about how he plans to succeed where Mr. Trudeau’s government has failed, despite allocating nearly $2 billion Canadian dollars to the effort and creating a new cabinet position, the minister of Indigenous services.

Indeed, Mr. Trudeau frequently brags about the government’s efforts to bring clean water to 109 First Nations communities. However, this does not mean that the issue has been resolved. When Mr. Trudeau took office, there were 105 boil-water orders in effect at First Nations. However, as the government worked to resolve issues in some communities, new ones arose. There are currently 52 boil-water orders outstanding.

“We have action plans and project teams in each of those communities with the money and expertise to get it done,” Mr. Trudeau’s senior political adviser, Ben Chin, told me this week in Burnaby, British Columbia. “I’m sure there will be more boil-water orders, and we’ll have to adjust to that as well.”

But, with the exception of a slew of Indigenous questions during the English debate, none of this came up during the campaign. Despite a splashy year, Indigenous issues remain on the periphery of mainstream Canadian politics.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democratic Party member who represents Nunavut, announced earlier this year that she would not run for re-election, citing the difficulties she faced as an Indigenous lawmaker.

“The systems are designed to work for specific people,” she explained to The Globe and Mail. “It’s mostly middle-aged white men.”

According to the Assembly of First Nations, there are 50 Indigenous candidates running in this election.

In general, Indigenous people appear to be less likely to vote than the rest of Canada. The analysis conducted by Elections Canada only includes Indigenous people who live on reserves, leaving many others out. However, in 2019, slightly more than 51% of that population voted, compared to 67 percent of all eligible voters.

A portion of this could be due to geography. Many reserves are located within sparsely settled electoral districts that span large swaths of provinces, which means that candidates seeking to become local members of Parliament rarely, if ever, visit these communities.

There are some technical barriers, which the pandemic may exacerbate. This year, the Assembly of First Nations collaborated with Elections Canada to resolve issues such as voter registration on reserves.

Many Indigenous people, however, have told me that they do not vote because they do not consider themselves Canadians and see voting as endorsing a system that was imposed on them.

“Many Indigenous people I know in both urban and rural communities do not vote on purpose because they believe Indigenous people are irrelevant to both local and national politics, that Indigenous people do not have a voice,” said Suzanne Stewart, a member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories and an associate professor of Indigenous healing at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Professor Stewart told me that she will vote on Monday — for a New Democrat — but only to honor those who fought for Indigenous peoples’ right to vote, which was only fully realized in 1960.

“That’s why I vote, not because I think anyone cares or that we’re important,” she explained.

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Indigenous Issues Sidelined As Canada Election Day Nears