Miles Morrisseau
Special to Indian Country Today

At the end of a 36-day campaign, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “snap” election didn’t change much.

It was Groundhog Day on election night in Canada with Trudeau’s governing Liberals having the same minority government they had in 2019. With only 158 of the necessary 170 seats it takes to have the majority of votes in Parliament, the Liberals will require the support of an opposition party to push through all legislation and budgets. That is likely to be – as it has been – the left-leaning New Democratic Party, although the Quebec sovereigntists Bloc Quebecois can also play that role.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Roseanne Archibald says the electorate had a simple message.

“Voters have spoken very clearly: they want stability,” Archibald told Indian Country Today Tuesday, after the results were tallied from the Sept. 20 election. “So, the government that we ended up with last night is essentially the same government before the election. And I think that that's an important thing to note that, you know, during the pandemic, people want this kind of stability and leadership.

“And at the same time, there were calls for some issues around First Nations and Indigenous people to be brought to the forefront.”

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Roseanne Archibald says Canadian voters wanted a stable government in making their decisions for the Sept. 20, 2021 snap election. But she said the election presented missed opportunities for Indigenous issues. (Photo courtesy of Assembly of First Nations)

A youthful voice

A record-number of Indigenous candidates ran for Parliament this year, with New Democratic Party candidate Blake Desjarlais one of the success stories. He is young, Indigenous, two-spirited and openly declares himself a “climate champion” in the middle of Alberta’s oil country.

Desjarlais, who campaigned as someone who “has dedicated his career to defending Metis Rights and advancing Indigenous self-determination,” won in the voting district of Edmonton-Griesbach, flipping a seat in the capital city of Conservative-dominated Alberta.

Desjarlais, 27, grew up in the city but is from the Fishing Lake Metis Settlement 250 miles northwest of Edmonton. He took to Twitter the day after the election.

“I’m deeply honored by the confidence that the voters of Edmonton-Griesbach have shown in me and in the NDP,” he posted. “And a huge thank you to my incredible campaign team. Together, we offered the people of Edmonton Griesbach a very clear, positive, hopeful choice — a choice for better.”

Blake Desjarlais, 27, with red mask, ran for the Canadian Parliament as a New Democratic Party candidate, winning election in a traditionally conservative district in the middle of Alberta's oil country. Desjarlais is Indigenous, two-spirited and openly declares himself a “climate champion.” (Photo courtesy of the New Democratic Party)

Desjarlais vowed to work on housing, the high costs of cellphones and internet services and pharmaceuticals in a statement released after the election.

"New Democrats have shown that we’re going to stand up for people," he said in the statement. "We’re going to make sure the super-wealthy pay their fair share, so we can deliver help to the people who need it right now. I promise to bring your voice to Ottawa. I promise to fight for the issues that matter to you here at home and across Canada."

Chadwick Cowie, a lecturer and researcher in the political science department at McGill University in Montreal, said Desjarlais’ win is a sign of the changing demographics of the city and the effort expended by the NDP.

“This is a riding (voter district) that they targeted,” he said. “It was the only riding that they were going to be, probably, able to turn over. So, good that they invested in it.”

Chadwick Cowie, who is Michi-Saagiig Niishnaabeg from the community of Hiawatha First Nation, specializes in Indigenous, Canadian and comparative politics. He is also a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Alberta. 

Missed opportunities

Not much else changed.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakinak, the organization representing First Nations in northern Manitoba, endorsed and campaigned for Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson, a citizen of the Pimicikamik Cree Nation. But Robinson finished behind Conservative candidate Charlotte Larocque, Metis, and they both trailed incumbent Niki Ashton of the New Democratic Party in the riding of Churchill-Keewatinook. The two Indigenous candidates, however, received enough votes combined to have defeated Ashton.

Cowie said there are other ridings with large Indigenous populations where two Indigenous candidates ran for office, without success.

“In Quebec, you had candidates who are running against each other,” he said. “And you have three NDP and you had three Liberal candidates running that I know. Two of them running against each other in northern Quebec. None of them won.”

Cowie said Desjarlais likely appealed to voters as a youthful voice in Canadian politics once represented by Trudeau.

“Because of the age and being two-spirited that probably brought out more vote in that district, because there's again, a little bit more relation to him,” Cowie said.

Looking ahead

Archibald, the national chief, said the election was a lost opportunity. She said Indigenous issues did not get the attention they deserved despite a high degree of empathy from mainstream Canada.

“To me, the fact that the parties didn't engage enough on First Nation and Indigenous issues, I think, hurt them all,” she said.

David Chartrand, of the Manitoba Metis Federation and acting president of the Metis National Council, released a statement after the election.

“The election of a minority Liberal government means that the Red River Métis can anticipate the continuation of our nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship with Canada, a model that has delivered positive results for our community,” he said in the statement.

Archibald said holding on to the status quo means Canadians can continue a healing path forward.

“How do we heal what has been happening to us and how do we help others heal?” she asked. “The majority of … non-Indigenous people are really empathetic and they're on our side. And how do we help each other to heal and move forward in a good way in this country?”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that Chadwick Cowie is a lecturer and researcher in the political science department at McGill University in Montreal and a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Alberta. Cowie is Michi-Saagiig Niishnaabeg from the community of Hiawatha First Nation. His university connections and tribal affiliation were incorrect in an earlier version of the story. 

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