Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde has backtracked on his intentions to abstain from voting in the upcoming election, after an outpouring of pleas to do so.
Bellegarde tweeted Wednesday morning that he will vote for a government committed to closing the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians, one week after saying he would not vote do so, in an effort to remain non-partisan.
Bellegarde further explained his position in an official statement Wednesday. While he emphasized his belief in the importance of remaining non-partisan as a First Nations leader, he acknowledged the concerns expressed by First Nations people across Canada.
“The message to me is consistent and clear: ‘It is vital that First Nations voices be heard in every way possible, including through the ballot box. You need to be an example. You need to vote,’” Bellegarde said in the statement. “I have reassessed my longstanding practice and will vote on October 19th to reinforce my message that First Nations priorities must be Canada’s priorities and that we must close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations people and Canadians”
Bellegarde told CTV’s Power Play last week that he will not be voting in the upcoming federal election, despite his organization’s national campaign calling on First Nations, a population known to have a low voter turnout, to do so. He admitted that his decision could contradict his messaging.
“It could (contradict it) but I’m going to be encouraging people to get out to vote because, as an elected leader, we have to maintain that non-partisanship,” Bellegarde said then. “The only card I carry is a status card.”
The AFN is a non-partisan organization.
Elections Canada estimates the average voter turnout for eligible voters on First Nations reserves is 44 per cent. The AFN is trying to change that.
The organization has identified 51 ridings where the aboriginal vote could influence the election outcome on Oct. 19, and the group is also working with Elections Canada to help First Nations access voting tools.
“Our young people want change,” said Bellegarde at the time. So there seems to be a greater awareness and growing interest amongst them that we can have impact.”
Bellegarde outlined the AFN’s federal election priorities last week, selling the plan as an economic benefit for all Canadians while “closing the gap.” He has repeatedly highlighted the fact that while Canada ranks between 6th and 8th on the United Nations Human Development Index, if the same indices are applied to First Nations people, the ranking falls anywhere between 63rd and 78th.