As we enter the final week of July all of the parties are fully into their election preparations. A big piece of that preparation is getting candidates in place in all 338 ridings across the country. As has been noted by many outlets, some parties are further ahead on this task than others, with the New Democrats being at the back of the pack on this count. They are making up ground and have nomination meetings going daily at this point, but they are still behind the other parties.
The Orange team has also lagged behind some parties on getting big name candidates to run too. Having such a candidate can bring a lot to a party in that riding, but nationally as well, as it is a sign of confidence in a party, it’s leader and their platform. But today we have news about two new NDP candidates who will be running in the fall, both of whom not only fit into that big name category but also say a lot about the standing of the Liberal government in the Indigenous community:
Let’s start with the big announcement from this morning, the Chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation Rudy Turtle deciding to run for the New Democrats in Kenora. Kenora riding is near and dear to my heart because it’s home for me, and it’s a place where the New Democrats have traditionally had strong roots. Part of the riding is represented by MPP Sol Mamakwa and part was also represented by former Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton. Hampton himself ran in 2015 federally and lost to Liberal Bob Nault by less than 500 votes in the Red Wave that swept the Trudeau Liberals to government.
A big part of that win in Kenora came from the First Nations communities in Treaty 3 and Treaty 9, as well as the Métis population in the region. Given the track record for the Liberals on Indigenous Issues and Indigenous Rights in this term, a big open question about the upcoming election has been what the Indigenous vote would do this time? Would it stay home? Would they vote Liberal again? Would they go back to the NDP? The answer to those questions will go a long way to determining if the Liberals can hold onto government.
So to see Chief Turtle step forward for the NDP is big, and when you add the circumstances around it, it gets that much bigger. We’ve written about the Liberals dealings with Grassy Narrows here a fair bit, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to hear about Chief Turtle’s disappointment with the Trudeau government. But his comments go far beyond his own disappointment with his whole community, they go to how this government has worked with Indigenous governments across the country. They ran on promising better and despite some progress, there are have been many more failures and steps backward. To see him choose the NDP is a big problem for the Liberals, but also a big affirmation of Jagmeet Singh and his leadership, a boost that the Orange Team has needed.
The next big nomination came the other night in Vancouver Centre, with Métis lawyer Breen Ouellette stepping forward and winning a hard-fought three-way nomination. Ouellette is a big nomination for the New Democrats in his own right, thanks to his recent work history. He was a lawyer with the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and quit his position with the Inquiry due to a “serious loss of confidence” in the leadership of the inquiry itself, but also with federal officials in charge.
As he was quoted by APTN of saying at the time, the inquiry was “speeding towards failure”. He was one of many people to who also resigned and walked away from the inquiry, including over six lawyers to resign. In response to his resignation, Huffington Post reported at the time that the inquiries commissioners were demanding that he stop making critical comments about the inquiry, either in public or private. Quite the experience indeed. This all lead him to seek an NDP nomination and run against this government, which speaks volumes too.
These two nominations don’t mean the end of the Liberal government nor the quick ascension of the New Democrats, but these are big nominations of note. These nominations speak to the sentiment in the Indigenous community on the ground and how people are deciding to react. Instead of walking away, they are stepping up and offering to do a better job themselves. So when it comes to the Liberals trying to rebuild the voter coalition they had in 2015, this is bad news for them.
For the New Democrats these nominations do give a bit of juice and energy to the Orange team. I’m at home on vacation in Kenora and during my time here I’ve had many good conversations with people about how they’re feeling. The NDP may be down in a lot of the country, but in this riding it’s became pretty clear to me that a strong NDP candidate in this riding would get serious consideration and have a very good chance of winning. Running against the incumbent Nault, a young student from the Conservatives and a relative non-factor from the Greens, Chief Turtle has a great shot of pulling this off. For a party that has been fighting off the narrative of losing seats all over, being able to point to a riding that could be a potential pick-up is good for the NDP.
There is a long way to go before the October vote and a lot could happen between now and then, but todays nomination news is undoubtedly good news for the New Democrats and bad for the Liberals. For a party that’s had good days too few and far between of late, we’ll see if this helps to turn that tide. Will this be the last such nomination of note like this? Time will tell but the Liberals are surely hoping it is.