Posts tagged ‘proportional representation’

Finally, a reason for First Nations people to vote.


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.

Day 12: First Nations would benefit from Electoral Reform

There are a lot of First Nation voters that are tempted to support the New Democratic Party or Green Party this election.  After all, these parties have very progressive agendas when it comes to First Nations issues.  Some voters are just so angry at Conservatives and the Liberals for the current state of Parliament and our fourth election since 2004.

But it’s easy to be progressive and responsive from fourth party status and no-party status.

As the Conservatives say in their latest TV ad:  “A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Ignatieff.”  (Brilliant, eh?  Who writes this stuff for them?)  That’s certainly true.  Truth is, this time around, a vote for NDP or the Greens is a vote for HARPER.

I’ve been swayed by the charms of Jack Layton too.  Last election, the NDP promised to restore the Kelowna Accord.  But we can’t forget the fact that Kelowna was conceived of and led by a historic partnership between the Liberals, the provinces and First Nations. Sadly, it was the NDP supporting the Harper Conservatives who brought down the Martin government and thusly, obliterated the most significant piece of Aboriginal policy…  EVER!

Promise what they want, the reality is that the NDP have absolutely no hope whatsoever of forming the opposition, much less a government. For Layton, it’s easy to support every single social cause you bring to them.  In my political experience, the NDP have never said “no” to First Nations.

Another fact is, the Greens have absolutely no hope whatsoever of winning a single seat, much less form a caucus in Parliament. I offer my kodos to Elizabeth May for stepping up and demanding to be heard through a debate.  But truth be told, she’s unelectable herself.

Monday night, I was contacted by devasmicota on Twitter who suggested that we ought to support a First Nations party.  “How about a First Nations Party for whom we don’t have to sell our souls to”. I agree wholeheartedly.  To me, that is the best way to ensure our voice is heard in Parliament.  But electing an MP on a First Nations Party ticket is just not going to happen anytime soon.

However, there is hope.

Every once in a while, there is a call to examine and change the way we elect parliament.  The call for proportional representation will get even louder if the government fails to make a minority parliament work after the third time.

Proportional representation is a type of election system that moves away from the first-past-the-post election of MPs, to allocating seats based on representative need.  During the 2007 Ontario election, there was a referendum asking voters that very question. Unfortunately, it failed miserably.

We can certainly argue that Canada needs a seat, or a number of seats allocated in the House of Commons for First Nations.  We can also use proportional representation to ensure every party has an elected MP based on popular vote.  If that were the case, in 2008 the Greens would have elected 20 MPs. That’s great news for the environment, but bad news for Elizabeth May’s day job.

First Nations would truly benefit from electoral reform.  Not only would we get one or two seats in Parliament by means of a set-aside.  A First Nations party could manage to get two or three more based on the popular vote.  Five seats in a proportional representative parliament is a mighty caucus.  In a minority parliament, those five votes might just hold the balance of power.

That being said, I wish all the luck to Will Morin, leader of the First Nations National Party in his candidacy in the Sudbury riding.  Folks like Will and Jerry Fontaine, both Anishinaabe, will be instrumental under a proportional representation system when the time comes.

If Parliament continues as it has in the past five years, the time for proportional representation won’t come soon enough.