North

Confusion reigns in Kuujjuaq over how and where to vote in the Quebec election

Although advance voting officially got underway this past Monday in Quebec's Ungava riding, hundreds of Kuujjuaq residents have still not received their voter cards due to missing postal information.

100s of Kuujjuaq residents still haven't received their voter cards due to missing postal information

The Kuujjuaq post office, from outside, in September. Hundreds of residents don't get their voter registration cards in the mail. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

Although advance voting officially got underway this past Monday in Quebec's Ungava riding, hundreds of Kuujjuaq residents still have not received their voter cards due to missing postal information.

Some see this as a big hurdle to Inuit participating in the Oct. 3 provincial election.

Many of the voter cards sent by mail to Kuujjuaq lacked a post office box number.

That meant post office workers had to make a search in order to put each card into the correct post office box.

That's a tedious job, on top of the usual tasks performed by the two employees in Kuujjuaq's post office.

A woman picks up her mail in Kuujjuaq in September. As is the case in many remote communities, mail is delivered in Kuujjuaq in post office boxes. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

"It's situation beyond the control of Élections Québec, resulting from postal issues in Kuujjuaq," said Julie St-Arnaud Drolet, a spokesperson for Élections Québec. "The post office team there usually can go into their system and see which voter has which post office box. But their system is not working at the moment, and that's behind this state of affairs."

Canada Post has not yet responded to questions.

Getting out the vote

This hitch comes as Élections Québec has taken several steps intended to make voting easier in Ungava's Inuit and Cree communities.

For example, several documents were translated into Inuktitut and Cree.

The advance voting period has also been extended, from last Sunday to Thursday.

A street in Kuujjuaq facing the river in September. More than 2,600 people live in Kuujjuaq, a number that does not, however, include many transient workers. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

However, without their electoral cards in hand, a large number of voters won't have access to key information on how to vote.

Luc Bédard, the returning officer for the Ungava, acknowledged that it would be difficult to distribute all the cards before the end of the advance poll.

Bédard said that he had taken steps to print more than 1,800 explanatory brochures and more posters to be distributed to voters as soon as possible.

Change of plans

As well, the polling station had to be moved on Monday, without notice, which didn't help matters.

Rather than remain in a large room in the municipal office, the Élections Québec team had to move to the Kuujjuaq Forum arena.

A poster in Inuktitut gives the dates for the advance poll. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

From the outside, only a small sign on the arena's front door shows this is where voting takes place.

Once inside, you have to go up to the second floor and cross two corridors before finding the polling station that's tucked away there.

"What is happening in Kuujjuaq is beyond our control. We were evicted from the room and redirected elsewhere. My team on the spot had to move and relocate to an inadequate location," Bédard said in an email.

'Unacceptable'

This last-minute location change and postal issues are seen by many as additional barriers to Kuujjuaq residents voting in the elections.

The Liberal candidate Tunu Napartuk, who has condemned the situation, wants to see Élections Québec make improvements.

Tunu Napartuk photographed in Kuujjuaq on Sept. 7. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

"If we want voters to go out and vote and participate in the democratic process, we must ensure that there is adequate communication. This has not been done. The government will have to create an action plan for Indigenous voters, " Napartuk said.

Napartuk said he would like to see an Indigenous liaison officer and appropriate support staff hired in the riding's remote communities.

Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash, of the Québec Solidaire party, said she's fed up.

"Everything that makes it difficult to vote in Nunavik contributes to putting Inuit on the margins of democracy. This is unacceptable and a situation we should denounce loud and clear, especially in a society that wants to be democratic," Labrecque-Saganash said in an email.

The Parti Québécois candidate in Ungava, Christine Moore, said the situation could make it more difficult for residents to vote. But she said this shouldn't become a partisan issue.

"I think that's a shame, that's for sure," Moore said. "But it was really a situation beyond the control of Élections Québec that led to the change of location. They are currently working to put the posters back up."

A polling station in Kuujjuaq in September. The small polling station contains only two voting booths. (Félix Lebel/Radio-Canada)

Denis Lamothe, the Coalition Avenir Québec, declined to comment on the situation.

In Quebec's last election in 2018, the turnout in Ungava barely exceeded 30 per cent of the 28,314 registered voters, or about half the Quebec average turnout.

In the majority of Nunavik communities, voter turnout was less than 20 per cent and sometimes as low as 10 per cent, according to Élections Québec.

Written by Félix Lebel, translation by Jane George

now