Elections Canada launching new initiatives to serve Indigenous voters

Elections Canada is planning early engagement initiatives and cultural training for staff to better serve Indigenous voters at the polls next year.

Cultural training for staff, early outreach programs planned for run-up to 2019 federal election

Elections Canada will begin outreach initiatives with Indigenous communities this spring, 18 months before the federal vote. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Elections Canada is planning early engagement initiatives and cultural training for staff to better serve Indigenous voters at the polls next year.

This spring, returning officers in 28 electoral districts will contact leaders in Indigenous communities and start mapping out plans with them on how electoral services will be delivered in the 2019 election.

Stéphane​ Perrault, Canada's acting chief electoral officer, said the goal is to improve access, not to persuade people to vote.

"Indigenous voters may decide to participate, or not, and they have all kinds of historical reasons that will inform their choice," he told CBC News. "It's not for us to be a player in that, but we want to make sure that when they do choose to participate, that there's no administrative barrier."

Perrault said that, by engaging 18 months ahead of the campaign, Elections Canada hopes to recruit more Indigenous people to work as returning officers.

Through the outreach efforts, returning officers will meet with Indigenous leaders and groups and take part in local events to become better known in the communities.

Positive sign for reconciliation

According to Elections Canada, turnout in on-reserve polling divisions (defined as those completely or partially contained within an on-reserve community) in the 2015 federal election increased to 61.5 per cent from 47.4 per cent in 2011 — a historic increase similar to the one seen among young Canadians.

Perrault said he sees that increased participation as a positive sign.

"It's a very important reflection of reconciliation, and I have a lot of respect for the decision that they make to participate or not participate, but obviously I welcome their participation and hope that it increases," he said.

"Our role is to make sure that if they want to participate, that we're there for them."

In ridings with significant Indigenous populations, returning officers will be given "cultural competency training" that could cover topics such as:

  • Terminology and definitions involving Indigenous people.
  • Socio-demographic information on Indigenous people in Canada.
  • The historical experiences of Indigenous people.
  • Addressing stereotypes and misconceptions.