The executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs is urging all chiefs and councillors in Atlantic Canada to encourage their band members to vote in the upcoming federal election to make their concerns and issues heard.
“The campaign, as you know, is a moving target. Every week, it changes from a crisis to a non-crisis,” John G. Paul said during the All Chiefs and Councils Assembly Wednesday in Dartmouth, N.S. “One week, it was the economy. Next week, it was the refugee crisis,” he said.
“One of the things that I know will not go on the agenda is First Nations issues. That, to me, is a problem.”
According to Paul, national Aboriginal voter participation in federal elections is at 45 per cent compared to the national Canadian average at 65 per cent.
According to Paul, the Conservative Party’s platform relies on maintaining a budget surplus by reducing programming and using the tax system to provide benefits or opportunities to individuals or companies.
“A lot of our community members aren’t part of the tax system. They participate in the child tax credit but that’s about it. Any tax benefits being identified would not get to First Nations people in a lot of the cases,” Paul says.
Aboriginal organizations such as the Atlantic Policy Congress have seen reductions in their annual budgets to provide programs and services to First Nations, he says.
“Our funding has been reduced, just in our organization, in just two years by about $1.5-million. So that has an impact in terms of the range of activities you can carry out,” he adds.
The Liberal and New Democratic parties, Paul explained, are both focussed on improving the relationship between government and First Nations and making strategic investments in basic services in education, housing, infrastructure and child services.
The Green Party is only political party that is most aligned with Aboriginal cultural beliefs and values on issues such as the environment, on murdered and missing Aboriginal women and investing in First Nations, Paul says.
Aboriginal leaders need to encourage their band members to vote on October 19 if they want to see improvements to infrastructure, housing, health care and the housing backlog, he adds.
Hugh Akagi, Chief of the Passamaquoddy at Qonaskamkuk in St. Andrews, N.B., agrees with Paul that Aboriginal people need to get out and vote in this federal election.
“We have to start repairing the damage,” Akagi says. “ If we’re going to fix that, then the place to start is by eliminating the problem,” he says.
“As long as we’re dealing with a government that doesn’t understand us and doesn’t talk to us, then the damage is that we’re being left out, we’re being ignored. Things are disappearing on us,” Akagi adds.
According to Akagi, a federal election is the only time politicians and candidates will listen to the electorate.
“We have to get them now when they need our votes.”
The Atlantic Policy of First Nations Chiefs’ meeting continues Thursday in Dartmouth, N.S. with the All Chiefs Annual General Assembly. An all chiefs federal election roundtable is on the agenda for 1 p.m.