Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages Them
Around every national or provincial election in which I can vote, my First Nation’s wife chides me for not following through with my intention of mass producing and distributing a neon-coloured bumper sticker that states “Don’t Vote: It just encourages them.” I never get around to doing it because as cynical as I have become about our electoral and political process I just can’t ignore the ballot box. Perhaps it is something hard-wired and lurking in my brain saying, as bad as our political system gets in this country, this is one of the few tools at my disposal to let them know what I think about them. But who can blame the increasing number of young people and the thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal citizens in Canada who chose not to vote or where choosing does not even cross their minds.
For many it is a question of relevance and trust. Why vote for politicians who have formed governments in Canada that have disposed First Nations peoples of their lands in any number of ways from outright fraud and theft to conniving trickery? Or watched helplessly as these same governments ripped their children away from their families, placed them in distant schools only to have their language and culture beaten (often literally) out of them. That is like electing weasels to come up with the best way of protecting the hen house.
Like so many other Canadians, Aboriginal voters in Canada have watched with increasing disdain if not disgust as our politicians engage in character assassination and attack ads, robo calls and election fraud, the appointments of party hacks and bagmen and women to very well paying plum patronage positions, and most recently and perhaps worst of all, the mammoth pork barrel and corruption that surrounds our embarrassing and unelected Senate and the entitled denizens who dine, drink and drivel there at our enormous expense.
As well, many Aboriginal Canadians would argue that they participate in the election of their own Chiefs and Councils and, if only very indirectly and vicariously in the election of their leaders in various regional, provincial and national organizations like the Assembly of First Nations or the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. But I would argue that the most effective of these leaders and the organizations they represent can be, at best, leaders of the other “Official Opposition” in Canada – and that is not enough!
Despite it being a monumental challenge, is it not time to begin mobilizing the kind of electoral power that Aboriginal citizens can exercise in the ballot box? No, I’m not just talking about nominating and electing Aboriginal candidates for public office. More importantly and particularly in those many ridings and constituencies across the country where Aboriginal citizens make up a sizable voting block, Aboriginal voters can considerably influence and often decide who will represent and advance their interests in Parliament. This is not to suggest that Aboriginal Canadians would or can vote in a block for the same candidate or the same political party. However, with the guidance of their provincial and national leaders who could provide assessments of how the various political parties have served the rights and interests of First Nations, Aboriginal voters could ultimately influence who forms a government!
For example, some research done recently indicates that in a handful of ridings across the country, the aggregate number of votes in all ridings separating the first place Conservative Party candidate from the second place finisher was 65,000. If that same handful of ridings had gone to the other political parties, we would have a minority government and not the arrogant one we currently have to endure for another two years. There is power in numbers and in those ridings where there is a sizeable Aboriginal population, that power can be exercized. The challenge is convincing Aboriginal voters that our broken political system is worth fixing and participating in, that the ballot box can be a way to protect and advance Aboriginal rights and interests and defend both against the increasingly loud chorus of crows who would deny them.
Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. He invites comments on his columns at firstname.lastname@example.org
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