AFN chief not voting in election, despite push to get aboriginals out to polls
Published Wednesday, September 2, 2015 3:06PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 2, 2015 10:51PM EDT
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says he will not be voting in the October federal election, despite his organization’s national campaign encouraging aboriginal people to do so.
Bellegarde made the comments on CTV's Power Play on Wednesday, admitting that his decision could contradict his messaging.
"It could (contradict it) but I’m going to be encouraging people to get out to vote because, as an elected leader, we have to maintain that non-partisanship," said Bellegarde. "The only card I carry is a status card."
The AFN is a non-partisan organization.
Bellegarde's comments come as he encourages aboriginal Canadians, a population known to have a low voter turnout, to cast their ballot on Oct. 19. Elections Canada estimates the average voter turnout for eligible voters on First Nations reserves is 44 per cent.
Bellgarde, however, may have an uphill battle mobilizing some aboriginals voters -- especially those who believe their voice hasn't been heard in years.
In Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, located on the border of Ontario and Manitoba, residents have been under a boil-water advisory for 18 years.
And the 275 people who live there are still waiting for an all-season road and a water-treatment plant to be built. They also do not have a safe place to dump raw sewage.
"Our garbage is piling up on this island, we are dumping our raw sewage, there’s no place to take it," Chief Erwin Redsky said. "We are close to the Trans-Canada Highway and the rest of society, yet society won't let us in."
The AFN has identified 51 ridings where the aboriginal vote could influence the election outcome, and the group is also working with Elections Canada to help First Nations access voting tools.
"Our young people want change," said Bellegarde. "So there seems to be a greater awareness and growing interest amongst them that we can have impact."
AFN election priorities laid out
Bellegarde outlined the organization’s federal election priorities on Wednesday, selling the plan as an economic benefit for all Canadians. He unveiled the plan, which would address the gap in quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians, at a news conference in Ottawa.
"Our plan is about building a stronger country for all of us. Because when that gap closes, Canada wins," said Bellegarde. “First Nations can and will be a major factor in this election."
Bellegarde has repeatedly highlighted the fact that while Canada ranks between 6th and 8th on the United Nations Human Development Index, if the same indices are applied to First Nations people, the rankingfalls anywhere between 63rd and 78th.
"If the economy is the overriding concern, then Canadians should get behind our plan because closing the gap will add $400 billion to Canada's economy (in Growth Domestic Product growth)," he said. "And also you’ll save $115 billion in social spending by 2026."
Bellegarde refused to put an exact number on the cost of the AFN's plan, saying it would cost in the billions to close the gap between First Nations and other Canadians. He said he wants to speak with the new government before announcing specific numbers.
"I'm not going to give you a number yet. Come see me in maybe seven, eight months, and we’ll have the right number," Bellegarde said.
The AFN has requested a formal response to its plan from the major federal parties, but has not set a hard deadline. And the organization’s non-partisan status means it will work with whoever is elected to implement the plan.
"We'll work with whoever gets elected on Oct. 19 to build a better country for all of us," said Bellegarde.
The major federal parties reacted to the AFN's proposal on Wednesday. The Conservatives said they firmly believe that increasing aboriginal participation in the economy is the “most effective way to improve the well-being and quality of life for aboriginal people in Canada,” and that more plans on this front are coming.
In a statement, the NDP reiterated its plans to call for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and to create a cabinet committee dedicated to indigenous issues.
And Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Bellegarde’s priorities align with the his party’s aboriginal platform, which includes a massive $2.6 billion First Nations education plan.
"I'm happy to see that the priorities put forward by AFN Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde are perfectly lined up with what the Liberals are committed to," said Trudeau at an event in Quebec City.
The AFN's plan features six overarching themes, each with specific priorities to be achieved over two time periods: the first 100 days and first two years after election day. Here’s a summary of the priorities for the first 100 days:
1) Strengthening First Nations, families and communities
- Launch a process to close the education gap between First Nations and other Canadian children, through First Nations control of First Nations education.
- Engage in a process with First Nations to develop a national action plan to address the root causes of violence against First Nations women and girls.
- Establish a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
2) Sharing and equitable funding
- Lift the 2 per cent cap on federal funding to First Nations.
- Establish a new fiscal relationship with First Nations.
- Commit to a multi-party process with First Nations, provinces, territories and the federal government to develop revenue sharing frameworks.
- Restore funding for First Nations organizations at all levels.
3) Upholding rights
- Establish a joint AFN-cabinet committee to monitor the implementation of First Nations-Crown priorities.
- Engage a process with First Nations to ensure the federal government is accountable to First Nations.
- Repeal Bill C-51, the government’s anti-terrorism bill, and ensure that security legislation respects First Nations’ rights.
4) Respecting the environment
- Establish a dialogue with First Nations on environmental protection, stewardship and sustainability.
- Repeal changes to environmental legislation and regulations introduced through Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, and work with First Nations to develop environmental and resource laws to protect the land and water.
- Apply a standard of informed consent, consistent with First Nations’ fundamental rights, in any decision making that impacts First Nations lands, territories or resources.
5) Revitalizing indigenous languages
- Increase investment in efforts to revitalize indigenous languages, including immersion programs.
- Work with the AFN on a national action plan to revitalize and promote indigenous languages.
- Work with the AFN on an Indigenous Languages Act consistent with the principles in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
6) Truth and Reconciliation
- Fully adopt the principles of reconciliation provided by the TRC and work with the AFN on implementation of the Commission’s calls to action.
The full plan, titled the 2015 Federal Election Priorities for First Nations and Canada, can be found here.