It’s official. The race has been called and the next federal election will take place Monday, October 21, 2019. With four weeks until ballot day, candidates and parties are trying to get their platforms out into the world and engage potential and undecided voters.

It can feel pretty overwhelming as a voter and, at times, I can feel a bit disillusioned. I recently took part in my first political poll and when it came to the “which party leader best matches your values?” question, my response was, well, let’s say, a bit lackluster.

This feeling echoes some of the conversations I have had with friends, family, and colleagues over the years about the role of voting and the concept of democracy. The push for the vote is an important and incredibly complex part of feminist history in Canada, as we unpack the racism that was woven into these efforts.

As someone who believes in the power of Indigenous self-governance, it can feel complicated to me to participate in a system that has been forced upon Indigenous people. Most people don’t even realize status First Nations people were not allowed to vote in the federal election until 1960!

Where I have come to in my own journey and understanding is that I see voting as just one tool in the spectrum of organizing for change. Federal policies and priorities have huge impact on often the most marginalized in my community. Voting for candidates who will have a more positive impact on those in my community is just one of many actions I can take, while simultaneously continuing to push for self-determination, election reform, increased diversity of candidates, and so forth in the pursuit of social justice.

Image of a sticker saying "I Voted," on the tip of an unseen person's finger
Photo Credit: Parker Johnson on Unsplash

Here at West Coast LEAF, we have been thinking about our priorities in this election. What kind of commitments do we want to see our parties and elected officials make to address our six focus areas, including access to health care; access to justice; economic security; freedom from gender-based violence; justice for those who are criminalized; and the right to parent. The answer is … a lot of commitments!

Below, we have compiled some of the issues we want to see candidates take action on, calls to action from our community that we’d like to see amplified, and election toolkits we’d recommend from other organizations we admire. As well, we’ve set out questions you can ask the candidates in your riding about how they plan to address the issues you care most about.

Access to Health Care

Access to abortion is already been a talking point in this election. To help voters, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has created an incredible resource kit to support you in fighting to protect and expand access to this vital part of reproductive health care. Their kit includes postcards, sample letters, and two petitions. Check out their toolkit HERE.  A sample question they suggest you ask your candidates:

  • Access to abortion is often a problem for people who live in rural areas or the north. What will you do to improve abortion access outside major cities?

The team at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is also circulating a petition that you can find HERE. Their focus is on the ongoing and devastating opioid crisis. They are calling for a federal commitment to harm reduction services. A question they suggest:

  • Will you advocate for harm reduction services — especially supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites?

Access to Justice

At West Coast LEAF we have been following the Third Safe Country agreement issue (read our blog post about it HERE) and how the federal government is measuring up on their responsibility to uphold the rights of refugees. The legal aid supports available to refugees vary widely across provinces and territories.

The Migrant Rights Network is hosting a pledge to counter harmful, racist rhetoric and to “commit to talking to your friends and co-workers, and to contact politicians or media if they use anti-immigrant messages during the federal election.” A question for your local candidates may include:

  • How will your party work to modernize our immigration laws and policies to ensure that woman and gender-diverse refugee claimants can find safety when fleeing gender-based violence? How will you ensure that our country lives up to its reputation as welcoming to refugees?

Migrant Justice #UniteAgainstRacism sample pledge sheet
Take the pledge! Unite against racism this election. Photo Credit: The Migrants Rights Network

Economic Security

Gender-based discrimination in pay has been illegal for decades. In fact, direct pay discrimination is prohibited across Canada whether by human rights legislation, employment standards legislation, or both. The problem is that it has never been effectively monitored or enforced. The current system– which is not proactive but is instead a complaint-based model–is not working. Canada’s pay gap remains one of the largest among OECD countries, ranking 30th out of 36 countries.

However the potential for change is on the horizon as Canada’s new pay equity law was passed in December. The legislation requires that all federally regulated employers with 10 or more employees ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value. At this time, the government is still working on regulation, so the legislation is not in effect. This will require a commitment from any new government to advance this work and see the legislation have meaningful impact.

The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition, while focused on the Ontario provincial government, has some great resources to help guide discussions on why this issue matters, check it out HERE.

We suggest you ask your candidates the following:

  • Will your party commit to the full implementation of the federal Pay Equity Act, including funding for a legal support centre to help employees who have claims?


Justice for Those who are Criminalized

Criminal justice reforms have been a big part of the federal-level conversation over the last few years.  In collaboration with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, West Coast LEAF intervened in a case to challenge prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement in a case that laid bare the devastating impacts on Indigenous women and women with disabilities. Political parties are often quick to claim that “tough on crime” legal reforms make our society safer despite the already considerable (and mounting) evidence to the contrary.

  • Does your party have a plan for meeting the spiritual, health and wellness needs of Indigenous prisoners? How will your party strengthen access to and the availability of community care for Indigenous prisoners?

A photo through prison cell bars. You can see down the hallway to more cells. The hallway is empty.
Photo Credit: Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

Freedom from Gender-Based Violence

We are excited to be once again be part of the “Up for Debate” campaign. The campaign’s main ask is for party leaders to host a debate on women’s rights and gender equality. The last federal leaders’ debate on women’s issues in Canada was on August 14, 1984 – 35 years ago. And yet, women, trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people in Canada still face many of the same barriers today. You can sign on to the ask for a debate HERE.

Oxfam Canada, a campaign partner, has also compiled a great resource on a range of issues, including gender equality, you can find HERE. They include a section on issues impacting Indigenous women and girls. A question they include is:

  • If your party forms the next government, how will you address the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls?

The Right to Parent

We are close to launching our new report, Pathways in a Forest: Indigenous guidance on prevention-based child welfare and are keen to see the overdue changes necessary to end the ongoing harms perpetrated by the system. We want to see Indigenous child welfare be a key issue this election. Cindy Blackstock and the amazing team at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society have been promoting their Spirit Bear Campaign for a number of years.

The campaign calls for ending inequalities in public services for First Nations children, youth, and families. They have a number of calls you can learn about HERE. A suggested question for your candidates is:

A photo of Spirit Bear sitting on a stool next to a leather book. A human hand is propping the book up in the photo.
Spirit Bear at the 2017 Ontario Bar Association Gala honouring Caring Society legal counsel Photo Credit: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

Wishing you good luck in engaging with your local candidates as we all seek more justice and equality in our local communities and communities across the country. See you at the polls!

Sharnelle Jenkins-Thompson is West Coast LEAF’s Manager of Community Outreach. Her formational voting memory is of the puppet her Mom made at their kitchen table of Jack Layton, as her Mom prepared to vote in 2011, her first-ever election as a new citizen.