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Electoral Reform - Path To Equality?

Lorie-Ann Larocque

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY/MARCH 1992      v21 n01 p04  
Guaranteed Aboriginal representation in Parliament is only one of the five hundred non-binding recommendations submitted by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing.

The four volume report which took two years and twenty million dollars to complete was brought down to the House of Commons on February 13,1992.

The Royal Commission, chaired by Peter Lortie, a Montreal business man, made a key recommendation that allows for the creation of Aboriginal Constituencies.

The proposed process conforms generally with the rules and procedures governing the establishment of general constituencies.

The proposal does not guarantee a fixed number of seats but rather proposes a flexible process. The proposed system is based on choice for Aboriginal voters.

Voters of Aboriginal ancestry, could choose to register and vote in either an Aboriginal constituency or a general constituency.

The Aboriginal constituencies would be created in response to the number of Aboriginal voters in a province who choose to register for that purpose.

In otherwords, the establishment of Aboriginal constituencies would be achieved in provinces with a significant Aboriginal population and would be related to the number of voters in a general constituency in a province.

Participation of Aboriginal people would be assured by special efforts such as mail in register forms and also in the expansion of geographic boundries.

For example in provinces which have two or more Aboriginal constituencies, the speaker of the House of Commons would appoint two Aboriginal voters to an Aboriginal Electoral Boundry Commission for that province. The two appointed members would then determine the boundaries and names for the Aboriginal constituencies.

Senator Len Marchand
Senator Len Marchand, Chairperson
Committee for Aboriginal Electoral Reform

A report written by the Aboriginal Electoral Reform, which is comprised of former and present Member's of Parliament of Aboriginal ancestry, also addresses the structural inequalities of the federal electoral system. These structural inequalities have effectively blocked the participation and representation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian electoral democracy.

The Committee's main proposal focuses on the formation of Aboriginal Electoral Districts to gain equal participation and representation.

In the report, "The Path to Electoral Equality", it strongly states that "direct representation of Aboriginal people would help to overcome long standing concerns that the electoral process has not accomodated the Aboriginal community of interest and identity. Aboriginal electors would elect Members of Parliament who would represent them and be directly accountable to them at regular intervals. M.P.'s from Aboriginal Electoral Districts would understand their Aboriginal constituents, their rights, interest, and perspectives on the full range of national public policy issues."

For the committee, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing has created the opportunity to make the path to electoral equality a reality.

However, guaranteed Aboriginal representation in Parliament has been met with mixed feelings. Marlene Gervais, housing coordinator, of Key Indian Band believes guaranteed Aboriginal representation "would not work because Aboriginal people would lose their power in certain areas and would not be properly represented as a whole."

She also added that the proposal was a "symbol of tokenism since the Aboriginal voice would not be heard and they would have no hope of becoming a majority or influence on other parties."

Marlene used the problems the Maori Aboriginals of New Zealand, who have four guaranteed seats, are encountering as her main example that the electoral reform regarding Aboriginal people in Canada would not work.

On the other hand, Wayne Ahenakew, the Social Development Coordinator for the Sandy Lake Indian Band, looks upon reform favorably. Wayne stated that "Aboriginal people require a voice in Parliament on issues that confront Indians and other

Electoral Reform...
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Electoral Reform - Path to Equality?

Lorie-Ann LaRocque

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY/MARCH 1992      v21 n01 p05  
Electoral Reform...
Cont'd

Native groups across Canada." He believes that the guaranteed the guaranteed representation would allow for this stronger voice.

Mr Ahenakew did express some concerns regarding that one negative aspect of the proposal would be "outside reaction". "People may not give the same respect and weight to an appointed Aboriginal M.P. as they would to an elected official."

He then added that 'the proposal would be stronger if Indian people pursued it themselves and earned the seats rather than the representation just being given to them."

Overall, Mr. Ahenakew feels that "as long as the Federal Government does not have any strings attached and the Aboriginal candidate has the same power as a person running in the Federal election, then the reform would be important." To Ahenakew "More People equals More of a Voice for the Aboriginal".

Peter Lortie remarked "our proposal for direct representation-which is totally incompatible with our institutional frameworks and traditions and is consistent with the rights, goals, and aspirations of Aboriginal people-would send an important message to the international community about the participation of Aboriginal people in Canadian Polity and confirm their unique place in and contribution to the development and history of our country."

Yet for many Aboriginal people, the proposal has raised several questions regarding Who would be an eligible voter? What is the value Aboriginal people hold toward electing their own representatives? and Could this be one way of reducing the glaring inequalities present in the electoral system?

But the most important question remains the same; Is electoral reform the path to equality?