For the past few weeks Ontarians have witnessed a number of historic moments, from the admission of a major political party that they have no chance of winning the election and issuing a plea to elect enough of their party to prevent either of their main opponents from forming a majority, to the unprecedented dive of the Ontario Liberal Party into a threatened complete rout even from their strongholds.
In Algoma-Manitoulin the die seems cast firmly in favour of the current incumbent, with Poll Tracker reporting a 99.9 percent chance of the electorate returning Mike Mantha to Queen’s Park. No major surprise to most political junkies. But this apparent coronation should not be taken as a given. There is a reason there are campaigns, just as there is a reason they play out the games of a Stanley Cup finals series even when the two opponents are mis-matched.
No one should remain complacent in this election, for some very practical reasons as well as the familiar exhortation that people have died to protect your right to chose. If a region is known to vote in large numbers, no political party can afford to ignore that electorate or constituency.
Which brings us to one particular constituency that figures large in the makeup of Algoma-Manitoulin—the First Nations vote. Traditionally, residents of the First Nations have had monumentally low voter turnout in an age beset by low turnouts. There are many sound historical reasons for this, including the fact that enfranchisement is a very recent phenomena, and the staunch maintenance that First Nations are sovereign and apart from the rest of Canada—although as Canada is a federal system and as a de facto reality it should be argued that the First Nations should be an equal partner in that federation, there is also a strong sense of futility pervasive among First Nations and other Indigenous members (and more than a few in the larger society are so beset it should be pointed out).
The late, and if we may say in honour of his (largely hidden in the back rooms) positive impact in the halls of power, great Tom Peltier was a tireless campaigner for increasing the Native vote, recognizing as he did the critical role that voter turnout plays in the cynical mathematics of power. If a community does not vote, then it is safe to buy them off with lip service and meaningless gestures—save the real money for where it will do the most electoral good.
As the late Mr. Peltier recognized many years ago, it doesn’t matter so much who Indigenous voters choose to vote for (even though he was a staunch Liberal and made no bones about where his heart lay), but if they vote in strong numbers the powers that be could no longer ignore them.
That message appears to have gotten through to many of today’s First Nations leadership, with Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Pat Madahbee and Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day exhorting their people to get out and vote. The Idle No More movement has set the promise that the original people of this land would no longer sit quietly by and be trampled by the ignorance of the mainstream—June 7 offers yet another such opportunity.
Mr. Peltier knew the numbers. He shared his calculations with The Expositor a number of times down through the years and those numbers clearly indicate that the First Nations hold the balance of power in enough ridings in this country to decide who will lead a federal majority. There are enough ridings in Ontario where the Indigenous vote could swing the decision that, if the Anishinaabe were to show up in massive numbers to the polls, no political party would ever dare to simply pay lip service or to continue to ignore the deplorable conditions too many in those communities are forced to endure.
This is not a call to vote for any particular person or party, but a plea for each of us to be ‘Idle No More’ when it comes to voting. Everyone can help with “getting out the vote.” Aside from getting out your own vote, assist someone who is elderly or otherwise infirm, or simply without transportation, to get to the polls.
When it comes to the community at large the same holds true. No matter which party currently has your allegiance (and that allegiance should never, ever be blind) going to the polls and casting your ballot sends a message—we will not be ignored. Should you not be willing to cast your ballot for any of the above, then show up and say so, decline your ballot and send that message south as well.
Voting does not hurt. Voting takes remarkably little time. But voting can make a difference and so can you.
On June 7, go out and make your own mark.