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Facilitating First Nation Voter Participation for the 42nd Federal General Election

1. AFN Mandate, Background and Objectives

1.1 AFN Mandate

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the national, political representative organization for First Nation governments and their citizens, including those living on and off reserve. Every Chief in Canada is entitled to be a member of the AFN, and the National Chief is elected by the Chiefs in Canada, who in turn are elected by their citizens. The role and function of the AFN is to serve as a nationally delegated forum for determining and harmonizing effective collective and co-operative measures on any subject matter that First Nations delegate for review, study, response or action, and to advance the aspirations of First Nations.

The National Chief is the official spokesperson of the AFN – distinct from Regional Chiefs or other political representatives – and in this regard represents the views of the national organization. The AFN's official position on a particular subject may or may not reflect the individual perspectives held by its membership. In addition to the National Chief, the AFN secretariat provides the research and technical expertise necessary to fulfill its function as a national First Nation political representative organization.

1.2 Project Background

For the past three federal general elections (GEs), Footnote 1 the AFN has worked with Elections Canada (EC) to help inform First Nation individuals and communities on various elements of the electoral process in Canada. The focus of the 39th GE was on getting out the First Nation vote, while the following two elections (the 40th and 41st) were largely focused on providing information to help overcome barriers to voting faced by First Nations.

Research shows that First Nations vote at a much lower rate in federal GEs than the overall Canadian population (61.4% compared to 44% between 2004 and 2011).Footnote 2 Qualitative data gathered by the AFN in 2006, 2008 and 2011 suggest that numerous barriers contribute to this outcome, including a lack of culturally relevant information (e.g., political and language barriers), the need to prove residency and identification, and a lack of information regarding EC programs and services.Footnote 3

While the evidence points to the existence of barriers for First Nation electors Footnote 4, a lack of data and research makes understanding the specific nature of these barriers and their relationship to First Nation electoral outcomes challenging. First Nations are not a homogeneous group that can be understood as a single unit. Each region, nation and community has its own unique cultural, political, geographical and socio-economic concerns. These factors, as well as many others, can impact the barriers to voting experienced by First Nation electors.

In 2014, the Canadian federal government passed Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, legislation that amended the Canada Elections Act (CEA). These amendments included more difficult identification requirements, changes to vouching as well as a diminished mandate for EC. These changes were identified by the AFN and others as being catalysts for increased barriers to voting for First Nations. Footnote 5

Following the changes to the CEA in 2014, EC reached out to the AFN to explore a partnership for the 42nd GE. The AFN, as the national representative for First Nations, was uniquely positioned to help provide information to First Nation electors and communities across Canada about the changes to the CEA as well as help EC fulfill its mandate to ensure that First Nation electors understood the ways in which they could register and vote. These discussions led to a contract between the AFN and EC for work that was carried out in the lead-up to, during and following the 42nd GE in 2015.

1.3 Project Objectives

The specific requirements of the contract were outlined in the Statement of Work (SOW) agreed to by both the AFN and EC. The objective, consistent with the official EC mandate, was to make sure that First Nation electors knew when, where and the ways to register and vote during the 42nd GE. This work had three components.

  1. Research – The AFN would research existing barriers to voting faced by First Nation electors and calculate an index that would help prioritize the AFN's outreach to First Nation communities based on a variety of factors.
  2. Communication – The AFN would support EC communication efforts to ensure that First Nation electors knew "when, where and the ways" to register and vote.
  3. Outreach – The AFN would reach out directly to First Nation electors, First Nation leadership and First Nation Band administrators.

This report will provide a comprehensive examination of the work completed by the AFN under the contract with EC. The report is divided into four sections: AFN Mandate, Background and Objectives; Methodology; Findings and Results; and Analysis.

Footnote 1 Specifically, the 39th GE in 2006, the 40th GE in 2008 and the 41st GE in 2011.

Footnote 2 Jean-Sebastien Bargiel, "Federal Voter Turnout in First Nations Reserves (2004–2011)," Elections Canada, 2012.

Footnote 3 Additional information can be found in "41st Federal General Election Assembly of First Nations Call Centre Final Report," May 26, 2011, and "Increasing Voter Turnout of First Nations Voters: Phase 2 Project Summary," March 9, 2009.

Footnote 4 For the purposes of this report, an elector is someone who is eligible under the CEA to vote in Canadian federal elections. Conversely, a voter is someone who has cast a vote in a particular Canadian federal election.

Footnote 5 See