MP Romeo Saganash marked the unofficial launch of his re-election campaign with a cocktail party and fundraiser July 6 in the Old Port of Montreal. Joined by New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair, Saganash said he intends to mobilize First Nations voters across Canada to turn out in large numbers for a crucial federal election October 19.
Saganash said he’s been travelling extensively across his sprawling Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou riding in northern Quebec since the last session of the House of Commons wrapped up in June, covering 3700 km in a single week.
“The work needs to continue where we left off,” Saganash told the Nation during the event. “I did a lot of work on Nutrition North. I want to continue pushing to fix the housing crisis both in Nunavik and Eeyou Istchee and even south of my riding. I have two Algonquin communities, Kitcisakik and Lac Simon, that are in need of housing as well.”
Saganash stressed that the different areas of his riding have specific needs and that anyone who works in and represents these regions needs to be sensitive to this diversity.
“It’s a huge riding, very diverse in terms of its populations and in terms of its economies. The Inuit live in a particular geopolitical reality, as do the Cree in James Bay. Abitibi thrives on the natural resources of the territory and to the south we have the two Algonquin communities that still do not have a treaty. It’s a lot of work and we need people who are mindful of those diversities throughout the territory. It’s a good fit for me.”
Saganash noted that he has a close working relationship with the chiefs and councils throughout the territory as well with mayors and elected officials in non-Native communities. He says repairing the decrepit James Bay Highway is a priority while citing climate change and northern infrastructure as two other issues that need to be addressed immediately.
“There’s a new reality in the north,” he said. “Climate change will have a major impact in the future and the new geopolitical realities that come with the melting of the ice in the north will create serious pressure. We need to look at these things very seriously and take a position on them. The north is going to have its importance for the future of all of Canada, not just for the future of northern Quebec. There needs to be major investment in infrastructure.”
Asked why he chose the NDP over other political parties four years ago, Saganash said he always respected the party’s policies and outlook.
“The NDP has very principled positions on many issues, whether it’s the environment, whether it’s Aboriginal peoples, whether it’s the future of the north. Take for example our position on Bill C-51; I’m very proud of that position we took. It was important to consider every aspect and the impacts of that bill. Not just on human rights but on our Aboriginal rights and our right to contest what happens in our territories. Only the NDP has managed to always take these principled positions and that’s why I can relate to this party very easily.”
Even as the incumbent MP and with the NDP’s recent surge to first place in national polls, Saganash isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I never take anything for granted, especially not elections,” he said. “This is the humble part that we enter now. I’ll take it one day at a time. I’ll do my campaign as I did the last time, a serious one, and I’ll participate in the debates. Hopefully the Cree will organize an English-language debate this time around!”
Saganash noted he’s still waiting for a few of his opponents to be nominated; only the Liberal candidate Pierre Dufour has won a place on the ballot. He also mentioned the incredible opportunity he has had to effect change from within Parliament and the great opportunity First Nations across the country have to influence this year’s elections.
“If Aboriginal peoples decide to come out and vote they can make a difference. The Aboriginal vote throughout Canada has been increasing over the years and people are starting to realize that whatever decisions are taken in Ottawa or in the provincial capitals of this country have an impact directly on their lives, directly on their lands, territories and resources, directly on their communities.”