Romeo Saganash

Romeo Saganash

Justin Trudeau will be Canada’s next Prime Minister, as the nation’s longest election campaign in over 100 years ended October 19 with his Liberal Party sweeping its way into a 184-seat majority government. In a tight regional battle, Waswanipi’s Romeo Saganash retained his seat in the Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou riding.

Saganash was among 16 Quebec-based NDP MPs who managed to secure another mandate in their ridings. In total, the New Democrats lost 51 seats across the country, 38 of them in Quebec. As results began to trickle in Monday night, it became increasingly evident that 2011’s famous “Orange Wave” of NDP support had been reduced to a ripple.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party managed to secure 99 seats. They will form the official opposition, but the former Prime Minister will not be at the helm. Once the Liberal victory was declared, a party statement announced that Harper would step down from his position as the party leader.

In the weeks leading up to the election, polls shifted from predictions of an NDP minority to a Liberal minority. Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou was one of several NDP-Liberal battlegrounds, with Saganash locked in a tight race with Val-d’Or’s Pierre Dufour until the last polls were counted.

Saganash was elected with 37% of the vote, beating Dufour by 1,704 votes. Dufour rolled in at second with 32.3% while career politician Luc Ferland of the Bloc Québécois garnered 18.6% of the vote.

Conservative candidate Steven Hebert’s 10% was good enough for fourth place while Patrick Benoit brought up the rear in his first campaign for the Green Party.

“As we watched all the changes in the national polling over the last three weeks, we knew that it was going to be very close,” said Saganash, thanking his supporters from the riding’s Cree, Inuit and Algonquin communities. “As the numbers came in, we knew that the Cree and Inuit support would be a game changer for our campaign. An integral part of representing this riding involves understanding its diversity and complexity, and I felt I did that while my opponents did not.”

A star candidate for the NDP when he was first elected in 2011, Saganash is the first First Nations MP to win consecutive terms in Quebec. During his first term, Saganash served as deputy Aboriginal affairs critic. His work encompassed a number of files impacting northern communities, including the Nutrition North program and housing issues.

He has also been a strong advocate for action on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. A residential school survivor, Saganash’s call to action on First Nations issues garnered national media attention several times. In September 2014, the MP received a standing ovation in the House of Commons, using an emotional retelling of his mother discovering the details surrounding his brother’s death in residential school to highlight the need for an inquiry into MMIW. Saganash said he will continue his push for an inquiry on MMIW in the years to come.

When the 42nd Parliament is sworn in November 4, Saganash will not be the only Indigenous MP sitting in the House of Commons. A record total of 10 First Nations candidates were elected, including eight for the Liberal Party and two for the NDP.

The good news for First Nations voters is that the Liberals and NDP carried similar platforms on Aboriginal issues. Both campaigns promised increases in funding to education and infrastructure in Aboriginal communities and both advocated strongly for the long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Saganash said he looks forward to working with the new government, and added that he intends to do everything in his power to hold the Liberals to their campaign promises.

“There are now 10 Aboriginal members in the House and I’m optimistic that we can work together,” said Saganash. “I’ve been very vocal in the House, and I will be there to remind them of the promises that they said they would deliver on.”