The Harper government passed the so-called Fair Elections Act last spring, just in time for this federal election. It’s anything but fair. Introduced in February 2014 by then-minister for democratic reform Pierre Poilievre, the new law requires potential voters to show two pieces of ID to cast a ballot. In addition, at least one of the IDs must show a current street address. The voter information card is no longer valid.
This handicaps many voters. How many people on welfare would have the necessary identification? Your health-care card doesn’t show an address, same for Social Insurance card. How many can afford a driver’s license or passport? How about first-time voters like the youth or recent immigrants?
Then there’s the First Nations peoples. Some reserves don’t have street addresses, so voters in those communities now have to find someone with proper ID to sign an oath corroborating the voter lives in that riding. Further limiting the opportunity to vote an individual may only attest for one other voter, though the band office can also fill out a form certifying a voter’s address.
There are valid concerns that voters will misunderstand or be overwhelmed by the new ID requirements, and find themselves turned away at the polls.
Some may say that First Nations shouldn’t vote because it’s not their government or they feel they won’t change anything. I would argue otherwise as government decisions affect your lives.
Not participating only allows them to perpetuate the legacy of broken treaties, a lack of housing, a lack of potable water, poor school facilities, low graduation rates and resources, high incarceration rates of First Nations people, lack of consultation before introducing legislation affecting our people and a host of other issues.
The hypocrisy of the Harper government is blatant. For example, the Prime Minister’s Office refuses to reveal how many staffers are paid more than $150,000 a year. The government claims that providing details on PMO salaries would constitute the release of “personal information.”
That certainly wasn’t a concern when they imposed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which obligates public disclosure of salaries of chiefs and band employees.
This may be why Canada’s Aboriginal population have low voter turnout rates – 41% in the last federal election in 2011. But these same reasons should motivate our people to vote.
The Assembly of First Nations identified 51 ridings that could be affected by the First Nations vote. In 2011 there were 308 ridings in all and the Conservative Party won a bare majority with 159 seats, giving them unlimited power.
We have seen what Harper and company has done with the power. The (Un)Fair Elections Act may make it harder for us to vote, but we should look at it as just another challenge to overcome.
We can make a difference, and this time, we must. The stakes have never been higher.