Finally, a reason for First Nations people to vote.

IssacJacobs2

Isaac Jacobs casts his ballot in 1962. First Nations were only given the right to vote in Canada in 1960.

Now is our time, Canada. Now is our time, Anishinaabeg!

Today, Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada announced a stunning and game-changing set of reforms to Canada’s election and parliamentary processes. The aim is to restore confidence in federal political processes, fairness in how governments are formed and transparency in how Canada’s affairs are governed.

If the Liberals win the election this fall, Justin Trudeau stated that this would be the last federal election to be held under the “first-past-the-post” electoral system.

This broken system makes it possible for a party to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40 per cent of the national vote.

Finally, there seems to be a real commitment to reforming the election process and exploring proportional representation. This will effectively put an end to the first-past-the-post system and make every vote count when it comes to electing Members of Parliament (MPs) and forming representative governments.

I’ve been a long-time advocate for election reform and proportional representation… but not for the reasons that most people have.

First Nations people have long felt unrepresented by Canada’s mainstream election process. Our vote, although key in some swing ridings across the country, often don’t amount to any type of representation of our voice, perspective and issues. Some First Nations communities reject federal and provincial elections completely as a means of asserting their sovereignty. Many of our people have completely given up and have become disillusioned with these processes.

As a result, the vast majority of voting-age First Nations men and women simply do not exercise their right to vote.

Under a proportional representation system, First Nations people may finally have a reason to vote. It may give us all a new rationale to explore when it comes to participating in the federal election.

Over the years, First Nations have tried on several occasions to create an indigenous political party to represent our unique interests. Under the first-past-the-post system, a vote for a First Nation party amounted to a wasted vote – a protest vote of a fringe party and fringe candidates. We’re not the same as a Libertarian, Rhinoceros, Communist or Marijuana Party.

The idea of a First Nation party in Canada is incredibly important to us. Having a leader, candidates and elected members with our voice, that understand and share our perspective is important to us.

We are a founding nation within Canada. It’s time for our voice to be heard in Parliament.

Under proportional representation, a First Nations party, with a full slate of candidates, with even one per cent of the vote, could theoretically obtain a seat in Parliament.

That’s right! Our own seat in the House of Commons. Not a set-aside seat (although that is important too) but someone who we actually elect during a general election, to sit in office as our Member of Parliament.

Grass roots indigenous people, with the support of the Chiefs, Aboriginal organizations and organizations such as Fair Vote Canada, need to stand up and press for true and fair representation for First Nations people in Canada. We need to be represented in the House of Commons with our own members, our own voice, by our own people.

Justin Trudeau has committed to appointing an all-party committee to study proportional representation and bringing viable options to the House of Commons. The time for action and raising awareness is now. The opportunity for proportional representation may finally be within reach.

Don’t get be wrong, I’m a true, red Liberal. That’s been the case because the Liberal Party of Canada has been a voice for me through the Aboriginal People’s Commission, the Aboriginal Caucus, and our great history of Aboriginal MPs and candidates.

However, if presented with an option for a system that will lead to true representation of First Nations people, that’s something I can support. That’s something that a lot of my Liberal colleagues can support too.

Indigenous policy ideas, committee representation and a voice in the House of Commons – it only makes sense that all First Nations people consider what proportional representation may mean to the future of indigenous people within Confederation.

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