Chiefs across Canada are being urged to get their people into federal voting booths next fall with the aim of defeating the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The call on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), adds another dynamic to an already tight three-way race and offers incentive to opposition leaders to target at least part of their campaigns at Aboriginal people – a demographic that has largely been considered inconsequential to the outcome of elections.
“This is a matter of national importance, and there should be no greater effort put forward by us in the coming weeks and into the coming months,” Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the crowd of several hundred.
Every Indigenous leader has a responsibility to return to their community and ensure their youth are registered to cast a ballot on Oct. 19, Mr. Nepinak said. He urged the chiefs to persuade their communities to vote for the candidate – Liberal or New Democrat – with the best chance of defeating a Conservative.
“We all have the ability to cast a ballot to effect change in Ottawa,” he said. “We can mitigate the damages by voting for a different government in this upcoming election.”
First Nations leaders say they have the numbers to affect the outcome in 51 ridings. Traditionally, turnout among Aboriginal people lags well behind that of the general population. Elections Canada says 45 per cent of people on reserves voted in 2011, but the chiefs say the actual turnout was much lower.