With three federal parties neck-in-neck in a race for power, Canada’s indigenous community is still debating on whether or not they should vote.
A crowd of students and members of the indigenous community gathered at the University of Winnipeg earlier this month to weigh in on the conversation.
The discussion, named To Vote or Not to Vote, hosted speakers from both sides of the spectrum.
“This is incredibly important not just for the indigenous community, but for everybody,” said Pam Palmater, chair of Ryerson University’s Centre for Indigenous Governance and speaker at the event.
Under the Canada Elections Act, an election must be called every four years. Prime Minister Stephen Harper requested an election from the Governor General on Aug. 2, making the 2015 federal election 11 weeks instead of the usual five.
This election will be the longest in Canada’s modern history, and according to the Toronto Star, will cost taxpayers an additional $125 million from the usual $375 million budget.
Despite the cost, Palmater said it’s a good opportunity to have community discussions about political issues leading up to the election.
“The panel will show both options,” said Palmater. “I don’t vote because I’m more about sovereignty and using other methods of forcing our issues, but others on the panel are very much pro-vote because they feel we can’t make changes if we don’t vote.”
The extreme difference in views is what caught the attention of Martina Saunders, a student in the Urban and Inner-City Studies program.
“It really struck me when I read ‘should indigenous people not vote’. I’m really interested in hearing that perspective,” Saunders said. “I mean, why would we not?”
Palmater said she would never tell people to vote or not vote, but rather share her views and the reasons behind them.
“I hope people will have a little more information to consider…so they can make informed decisions for themselves,” she said.
According to Elections Canada, the indigenous voter turnout is about 15 to 20 per cent lower than the general population. The community may have the numbers to make a big impact in such a tight race.
According to the Toronto Star, both the Liberals and NDP have promised to call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and invest in First Nations education. The Conservatives have yet to release a platform on indigenous issues.
As it stands, the Conservatives have a majority government with the NDP forming opposition, and the Liberal party at a distant third.
Based on polls conducted by Nanos Research, the three parties are all within one per cent of each other. So far, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has rejected the possibility of a coalition, or cooperating government, proposed by NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
This is one in a series of federal election campaign stories completed by Journalism Major students in Red River College’s Creative Communications program. Click here to read more of their articles.