Voting ‘like crazy’: How Manitoba Métis are getting their citizens to the polls

More than five million Canadians have already cast ballots at advance polls in the federal election, and the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) is confident “hundreds upon hundreds” are Métis.

Last week, the MMF announced a new incentive program that encourages Manitoba Métis citizens to hit the polls, offering raffle prizes in exchange for selfies outside of polling stations.

“This is pumping up a lot of new energy,” said MMF president David Chartrand.

“Our staff are telling us they’re inundated already with people sending in their pictures … they’re just coming like crazy.”

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The Canada Elections Act prohibits anyone from offering or receiving “a bribe” in exchange for voting, not voting, or voting in for or against a particular candidate or party.

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The MMF’s incentive program, however, does not require proof that citizens voted, only a photo outside the polling station. All the prizes — including televisions, PlayStations and a car — have been privately donated.

The federation is also encouraging residents to visit and submit their photos on its website, where it has laid out its federal election priorities and explained how each of the major political parties’ platforms addresses them.

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The goal of the non-partisan initiative, Chartrand said, is to encourage democratic participation, particularly among youth voters, who he hopes will take up voting as a lifelong habit.

At the end of the day, he added, the program also sends a message to all the political parties that with more than 400,000 citizens nationwide: “Métis matter.”

“We may be poor but we have a big population in Western Canada … so we will impact (election results).”

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Sharon Parenteau was among the first Manitoba Métis citizens to cast an advance ballot and participate in the program. The general manager of the Louis Riel Institute, she voted on Friday with a group of other MMF staffers in Winnipeg, and posted the photo to social media.

“I think there’s only one way to have your voice heard and I also think it’s not right to complain about government if you don’t exercise your own voice,” she told Global News.

“I’m not really doing it for the prize or anything, I’m just doing it because I think we should be encouraging our families to vote, our friends to vote, everyone to vote.”

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Few statistics exist on Indigenous votership in Canada because Elections Canada doesn’t collect demographic information at most polling stations.

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In the 2015 federal election, however, 61.5 per cent of eligible voters living on reserves cast their ballots — a turnout increase of 14 percentage points from the 2011 election.

Tania Cameron, who led the First Nations Rock the Vote movement in Kenora, Ont., in 2015, said she believes Indigenous voter engagement has increased since then.

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While contracted as the Indigenous ‘Get Out the Vote’ organizer for the New Democrats in this election, she said her social media inboxes are flooded with questions from Indigenous voters of all political stripes, which she’s only too happy to answer.

“I remind in particular First Nations voters that we only had the right to vote as of 1960,” she said.

“Our people made every effort to ensure we have a right and have a voice at the ballot box, and in this 2021 election, we see and know there are parties that are listening to what our concerns are as First Nations, Métis and Inuit in this country, and how we want to be represented in Parliament.”

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The federal election is on Sept. 20.

Indigenous organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have all outlined their election priorities and more information for Indigenous voters on their respective websites.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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