Elections Canada apologizes for missing Election Day polling stations in some area First Nation communities
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
Elections Canada has issued a response to the concerns raised by the federal NDP and several First Nations communities in regard to polling station issues during the recent federal election. At the time of the election, three First Nation communities in the Kenora riding (Cat Lake, Poplar Hill, and Pikangikum) found themselves without polling stations while a fourth (Grassy Narrows) had a station open four hours late. Sol Mamakwa, NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong and Eric Melillo, MP for the Kenora riding, both issued statements at that time requesting an inquiry into what went wrong so that such an event would not occur again.
Elections Canada shared in an emailed response that they have been providing to the media, “We know that there was some confusion between Elections Canada and the communities in Kenora. Arrangements were made that, despite the intention to serve these communities well and address their specific needs, clearly fell short of doing so. We apologize to any elector who was unable to vote as a result.” The response goes on to say, “At this point, we are continuing our work to determine exactly what happened in these three communities, going back even before the election was called. We are taking a look at how discussions unfolded and decisions were made, but here is what we know so far: In short, we know that upon learning that the communities would face difficulties with the poll on election day, the returning officer made alternate arrangements. We know that it wasn’t enough, and that communication with electors was not adequate. We are still working to get a complete picture of what happened. This involves consulting with the returning officer and Elections Canada staff as well as with community leaders and those who were affected.
“As part of our examination, we will look at the voting services offered to Indigenous communities across the country to find out if what happened in Kenora is a singular event or if it is indicative of a more general problem. As we do after every election, we’ll also be looking at ways to improve our pre-election outreach to Indigenous electors. We know that to deliver the services that people need, there has to be engagement. We need to build trust and work to maintain that trust. We will look at ways to improve how we engage with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities between elections, so that when election time comes, we can rely on those relationships to help ensure that everyone feels supported and well served.”
The email response concludes, “Elections Canada is dedicated to serving Indigenous electors and we know they face unique barriers to voting. We’ve made significant efforts to improve our service offerings, but we know there is still room for improvement. We need to specifically address what happened in Kenora to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and take a close look at our overall approach to serving First Nations, Métis and Inuit electors so that these issues can’t arise elsewhere.”
Melillo responded to Elections Canada’s apology stating, “The voting issues in certain First Nations communities were unacceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again. I’m pleased to see Elections Canada has accepted responsibility for this situation, and I look forward to seeing the results of their investigation.”
Mamakwa had this to say in regard to the response from Elections Canada, “I think the First Nations that had no polls on election day need a direct email or a direct letter, emailed directly to them. I think there’s no reason for this to happen. There’s no reason that here in the north or here in Canada we should be having these issues with not having polling stations. We have to understand, since opening up a lot of First Nations have been trying to catch up on their medical appointments. A lot of people are traveling and a lot of people were out on the land as well. An apology is appreciated, but we need to do better.”