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New Political Landscape Could Benefit Aboriginals

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Canada’s political landscape changed dramatically in the May 2 election. Not only did seven aboriginal candidates, more than ever before, win seats in the House of Commons. But the Liberals lost their official opposition status to the New Democratic Party (NDP) as well. It’s a watershed moment in Canadian politics, pundits say, one that could give the country's indigenous an unprecedented foothold in national politics.

“This is a huge defeat,” political scientist Stephen Clarkson said of the NDP upset to the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s almost as if the Democrats were elected in only three states, and it changes the map of Canadian federal politics.”

The socialist-leaning NDP won 103 seats, up from a previous high of 44. In a post-election press conference, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said the NDP has some “progressive proposals.”

The election of seven aboriginal Members of Parliament (MPs) may also help spotlight indigenous issues.

Innu leader Peter Penashue will represent the Conservatives in Labrador, Cree leader Romeo Saganash will do so for the NDP in Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou in northern Quebec, and NDP Innu Jonathan Genest-Jourdain was elected in Manicouagan, a riding (Canada’s term for its election districts) in Quebec.

Nunavut Inuit Leona Aglukkaq was reelected for the Conservative Party, as were three other fellow party members: Rob Clarke, Cree, of the Saskatchewan riding Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River, Métis Shelly Glover, in Saint Boniface riding in Manitoba, and Rod Bruinooge, also Métis, in Winnipeg South, the Toronto Star reported.

Moreover, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported, all four candidates in the Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River riding were aboriginal, which is also a first. “We’re on our way like never before, and seven MPs is fantastic,” Liberal Len Marchand, the first status Indian elected to Parliament, in 1968, told The Globe and Mail. “The aboriginal MPs certainly now are role models.”

Besides potentially bringing aboriginal issues to the fore, aboriginal MPs could also bring out more voters, a University of Manitoba researcher told The Globe and Mail. For instance, said Kiera Ladner, the university’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance, voter turnout was 52.2 percent in Saskatchewan riding, whereas in the previous election, turnout was just 44.7 percent, TheGlobe and Mail said.