Can the NDP Capitalize on the Indigenous Disappointment with the Liberals?

August 9, 2019

The 2015 election was record-breaking with 54 Indigenous candidates running for federal office, almost double the number that were nominated in 2011. It is not clear yet if 2019 will eclipse the 2015 record but it is possible since there are at least 43 Indigenous candidates already running and no party has yet nominated its full complement of candidates. Not only was 2015 record-breaking for the number of Indigenous candidates, it saw 10 Indigenous MPs elected and historic Indigenous voter turnout with 61.5 percent of on-reserve Indigenous voters casting ballots.

The Indigenous perception of participating in politics appears to be slowly changing. Only granted the right to vote in 1960, it appears that historically marginalized Indigenous peoples see opportunities to influence government and policies, not only from outside but from within government. This is reflected in the attitudes of some Indigenous leaders, including Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief Perry Bellegarde, who voted federally for the first time in 2015 and now encourages his member to do the same. It is also reflected in the number of Indigenous candidates running in the upcoming election.

All parties have Indigenous candidates, with the Liberals currently having the greatest number of nominated candidates, followed by the NDP. All provinces apart from Yukon and P.E.I. have at least one Indigenous candidate, with B.C. and Manitoba tied for the most at nine. Additional Indigenous candidates may be nominated as parties continue fill out their rosters ahead of the October election. For details of the individual candidates please see the link at the end of the article.

The 2015 election showed that the Indigenous vote can have an impact. At the AFN annual general assembly at the end of July there was talk about making their voices heard during the election campaign and that both national and local Indigenous agendas can and should influence all party platforms. The AFN has created a list of 51 ridings it is targeting for this election, including some that flipped parties in the last election.

The Liberal government made a number of changes to improve relationships with Indigenous peoples including creating a new ministry and minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations which created a mechanism for Indigenous groups to talk directly with a minister about constitutional rights. The Liberals have also worked to address Indigenous languages and child welfare and made progress on reducing the number of boiled water advisories. Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette for Winnipeg Centre and chair of the Indigenous caucus is proud of his government’s work for Indigenous peoples and said, “we’re trying to undo 152 years of colonization.” While many in Indigenous communities see that progress has been made by the Liberal government, some are disappointed that the Liberals did not do more during its four-year mandate.

Bill C-262, a private members bill by NDP MP Romeo Saganash that enshrines the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into Canadian law will die when the writ drops. The Bill passed the House of Commons but was not voted on in the Senate because of what the NDP and others are calling “stalling” by the Liberals. Liberal candidate Jaime Battiste, a Miq’maq candidate for the riding of Sydney - Victoria, Nova Scotia, said if the Liberals take a second mandate, the party promises to make this a government bill, meaning the likelihood of it passing is greater.

In addition, there may be disappointment in the way B.C.’s only Indigenous incumbent, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal cabinet minister and a powerful First Nations woman was treated and removed from caucus. Ms. Wilson-Raybould is running in the upcoming election as an Independent in the riding of Vancouver - Granville.

In explaining his decision to run as an NDP candidate, Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle cited his disappointment with the Liberal government and specifically their failure to sign an agreement to address the effects of mercury contamination in the community. It is clear that the NDP is trying to attract Indigenous votes who feel disenfranchised by the Liberal government.

The NDP platform commits to upholding Indigenous rights, advancing self determination, including fully implementing UNDRIP, reconciliation and justice. An NDP government would invest in Indigenous children, including closing the education gap and health care gap. It would work with Indigenous communities to ensure access to clean water, strong public services and safe, healthy, affordable, quality housing. In addition, an NDP government would support Indigenous employment and economic development. It would commit to fighting climate change with Indigenous peoples by respecting their knowledge and sovereignty.

The Harper years are viewed as turbulent ones for Indigenous peoples. When Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer spoke in December at an AFN gathering, he was unable to answer how his policies would differ from those of the last Conservative government, instead suggesting they will have to wait for this platform to be released. Scheer’s platform, as it relates to Indigenous issues, remains forthcoming.

The loss of faith in the Liberals by some may lead them to vote for the NDP, as they may view the CPC as not a viable option. The NDP may also benefit from the fact that voters may be less inclined to vote in a strategic manner for a change in government in this election. It is clear that the NDP is paying attention to the Indigenous voters, but it is too early to tell if this will translate into votes.

Indigenous Candidates Running in 2019: