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Electoral Insight – Aboriginal Participation in Elections

Electoral Insight – November 2003

Chief Electoral Officer's Message
Aboriginal Participation in Elections

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

This special issue of Electoral Insight is devoted to the important question of Aboriginal electoral participation. It presents analyses by a number of academics and researchers who have studied Aboriginal involvement at the federal, provincial and band levels in Canada and elsewhere. The research shows that, on average, Aboriginal people vote in federal elections at a lower rate than other Canadians. However, there are significant variations across provinces and territories, with some cases of participation at higher levels than the Canadian population as a whole. There is also evidence of lower turnout rates for Aboriginal voters in urban centres.

Our authors offer a number of explanations. These include, at least for a part of the Aboriginal population, mistrust of federal and provincial governments and a belief that pursuing self-government for their own communities is more important than voting in parliamentary or legislative elections. Some Aboriginal people in Canada were not given the right to vote until 1960, and this has not been forgotten. In addition, because most Aboriginal people are not concentrated geographically, it is difficult for them to capture the attention of political parties or win nominations as candidates. In turn, what some see as the lack of meaningful debate about issues that matter to Aboriginal people discourages them from voting.

What can be done to encourage more Aboriginal people to exercise their right to vote? Some of our authors advocate a form of guaranteed representation in Parliament. Others claim it would be more beneficial for Aboriginal people to work within the existing political system, and press for improvements, rather than opting out of the federal electoral process.

Elections Canada has undertaken many initiatives aimed at sensitizing Aboriginal people to their right to vote and making the electoral process more accessible. We have consulted many Aboriginal communities in preparing our information campaigns for recent elections, and in developing our liaison officer and elder and youth programs.

We are renewing our efforts in preparation for the next general election. We will expand the Aboriginal liaison officer program, hire more Aboriginal people as election officers and develop new information and advertising campaigns. I am also consulting Aboriginal leaders and youth about other possible measures, including ways of reaching the growing Aboriginal population in urban centres.

I am open to readers' suggestions about how to enhance the involvement of Aboriginal people in the Canadian electoral process.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.