Candidates and party leaders roam their ridings and the country looking for every final vote in the closing days of the campaign for Monday’s federal election.
In the 10 federal ridings that make up northern Ontario, members of First Nations communities constitute an important demographic for litigants.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), a national organization that defends 634 First Nations, released a report at the end of August that lists the 24 federal ridings that it believes will be the First Nations voters who will have the more likely to determine the outcome.
Kenora riding was third on this list, with about 33 percent of the electorate comprised of First Nations people, according to AFN data. In addition, approximately one-third of all First Nations in Ontario are found in this riding.
“All parties should consider the role that First Nations issues and voters play in the potential role of ‘kingmaker’ in the upcoming elections on September 20, 2021,” the AFN statement read.
Four other constituencies in the region are on the AFN list:
- Thunder Bay – Rainy River, with 10 percent First Nations electorate.
- Sault Ste. Marie, with 6.2 percent of the First Nations electorate.
- Timmins – James Bay, with 11.4% of the First Nations electorate.
- Algoma – Manitoulin – Kapuskasing, with 11.8% of the First Nations electorate.
Voter turnout on reserves to watch
But to realize their ability to determine results in federal ridings, First Nations voters will need to show up at polling stations, Tania Cameron told TUSEN News in an interview.
Ahead of the 2015 election, Cameron led the non-partisan Rock the Vote campaign from his home and occasionally his mother’s van in Kenora, Ont, which encouraged people living on First Nations reserves to vote. With a dedicated group of volunteers scattered across Northwestern Ontario, they set up voter registration clinics to help people get to the polls.
The result in 2015 was astounding, with a record 61.5% of on-reserve residents voting. It was even reported that First Nations polling stations in northwestern Ontario were out of ballots due to high turnout.
As the turnout fell to 51.8% in the 2019 election, Cameron said the legacy of the Rock the Vote campaign lives on.
“In the riding of Kenora, there are 40 First Nations. Of the 40 First Nations, 37 will generally have polling stations, ”she said. “We have an electoral base in the reserve which can, if we decide to work together, determine who will be next. [member of Parliament] for Kenora. “
Barriers to voting on reserve persist
But barriers remain for people living on reserves to vote, Cameron added, including possession of ID.
“Especially in communities accessible by air, they won’t have a driver’s license because to get a driver’s license you have to go to a city that has Service Ontario, and the sheer cost of that is a barrier. Then it’s a matter of figuring out what other ID they might have. “
An Elections Canada report on Indigenous voter turnout cited a 2015 AFN online survey that indicated that 21 percent of First Nations respondents chose ID requirements as a barrier to voting.
Changes to federal election law in 2018 expanded the types of IDs that can be used to vote, but Cameron said those challenges persist.
She also said First Nations voters will sometimes receive incorrect voting cards.
“One of the frustrating things I’ve come across is that there are three communities – Whitefish Bay and the two Northwest Angles, 33 and 37 – they’re placed in the wrong community. So they’ll get their voting cards that say that they have to go to the neighboring community to vote, ”Cameron said.
“Sometimes it’s okay if they have a vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle, you’re not going to walk five or ten kilometers to the next community to vote.”
NDP seeks seats in northern Ontario
In the 10 ridings of northern Ontario, the New Democratic Party seeks historically strong support from First Nations.
TUSEN analyzes have shown that the NDP has won the First Nations vote in polling divisions on reserve for at least the last three federal elections.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is looking to build on this, having already made two campaign visits to major urban centers across northern Ontario, including Thunder Bay and Sudbury. Candidates from the region have also unveiled a platform specific to it earlier this month.
Since the 2019 election, Cameron has worked to increase NDP voter turnout among First Nations in Northwestern Ontario. In the riding of Kenora alone, she said, 31 people historically voted overwhelmingly in favor of the NDP.
“If I can target these 31 and ask them to have 25 more people [in each of the First Nations to get out and vote NDP], then it would be the First Nations who would determine the vote, ”said Cameron, adding that she hopes this election will make Kenora his first wife, first native and first NDP MP, in Janine Seymour.
But the race in Kenora riding, which was created in 2004, is expected to be hotly contested.
Seymour faces incumbent Conservative Eric Melillo, who won in 2019 by 1,100 votes, largely thanks to support from urban centers along the Trans-Canada Highway, and Liberal candidate David Bruno, whose campaign is supported by Leading liberal candidates Patty. Hajdu and Marc Miller, both of whom held senior ministerial positions under Justin Trudeau during the previous term.