Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
At least 13 Indigenous candidates with four parties have their names on the ballot for the May 29 Alberta election. That represents six less than ran in 2019.
However, Indigenous candidates are, arguably, in ridings that could see the first Indigenous Member of the Legislative Assembly elected in Alberta since Pearl Calahasen lost her seat in 2015. Calahasen, a Progressive Conservative (PC) member in Lesser Slave Lake, held a number of Cabinet positions. She was elected in 1989 and was the first Métis woman to hold public office in the province.
Now, Scott Sinclair, representing the United Conservative Party (UCP) in Calahasen’s former riding, is hoping to retain the seat after UCP incumbent Pat Rehn chose not to run again. The UCP was formed in 2017 as a merger between the PC and Wildrose parties.
Sinclair faced a tough battle for the nomination, competing against three other hopefuls, two of whom are Indigenous and a third who is married to a First Nation’s man and lives on reserve. The tally was so close a recount was called and confirmed Sinclair’s victory.
Sinclair, who is non-status First Nation, is pleased that candidates with Indigenous connections stepped up to fill the position.
Sinclair is in for another tough battle as Lesser Slave Lake is one of a handful of rural ridings that opinion polls suggest could swing from UCP to NDP. Rehn defeated NDP incumbent Danielle Larivee, who is hoping to take the seat back.
“I’ve met so many amazing leaders that I know are not UCP members and I have some, even in my own family, that would make fabulous NDP candidates for this region, but they weren't even given the opportunity to run,” said Sinclair, who grew up in Slave Lake and a year ago returned to live in the community and start a business.
The NDP did hold a nomination meeting, but Larivee’s name was the only one put forward.
“As much as the math doesn't add up really well on the UCP side, I would say it's very, very upsetting that in a region with the largest population of Indigenous people, (the NDP) acclaimed a middle-aged white lady,” said Sinclair, who appears to be the only Indigenous candidate for the UCP.
The 2021 Canada Census has the population in Lesser Slave Lake at 54 per cent Indigenous. The census does not show how many Indigenous people are of age to vote.
Numerous attempts by Windspeaker.com to get a list of Indigenous candidates from the UCP election team have gone unanswered. The UCP had three Indigenous candidates in 2019.
Another rural riding that could be in play is Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, which may benefit from its proximity to Edmonton, which is an NDP stronghold.
Katherine Swampy, a councillor with Samson Cree Nation, is running under the NDP banner. The riding is held by Rick Wilson, who has served as Indigenous Relations minister in the UCP Cabinet since his election in 2019. With 65 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots, Wilson notched 64 per cent of those that voted.
Swampy is confident she can take the riding back, which prior to Wilson was held by the NDP.
She says getting out the Indigenous vote will be key as many Indigenous people focus more on band politics “because it's federal land and a lot of what they're doing, they don't really look at the province as something that's on par with them.”
That’s changing, says Swampy, with many provincial grants now available to Indigenous communities.
She also points to almost 35 years ago when the federal riding of Wetaskiwin, which included Maskwacis, voted in the first ever Treaty First Nations Member of Parliament. Chief Wilton Littlechild, from the Ermineskin First Nation, served a single term with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He did not seek re-election.
“When (Littlechild) ran, a large number of Indigenous people…went ‘blue,’ we'll say. And they were all very conservative and the thing about a long time ago is they were progressive, right? They had Progressive Conservative and a lot of what they were doing was wanting to build on public infrastructure, wanting to tax oil corporations and give back to the Albertan and give back to the Canadian and those values have significantly changed. I actually feel like, the way they were back then, is closer to what we as an NDP are today,” said Swampy.
This is Swampy’s second time running for the NDP. In 2015, she ran unsuccessfully in Drayton Valley-Devon, which included half of Maskwacis. Since then provincial riding boundaries have been redrawn.
According to the 2021 Canada Census, 25 per cent of the population in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin identifies as Indigenous. However, the statistics don’t indicate how many of those are of voting age.
Two other Indigenous candidates for the NDP could be on the threshold of legislature seats in Edmonton ridings. With the exception of a single seat in Edmonton which is UCP, the rest of the city is NDP.
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse is running in Edmonton-Rutherford, which was held for two terms by NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who didn’t seek re-election. When Feehan served in the NDP Cabinet in 2015, he held the position of minister of Indigenous Relations. Stonehouse is Cree and Mohawk from Michel First Nation.
Brooks Arcand-Paul is running in Edmonton-West Henday. NDP MLA Jon Carson decided not to seek re-election. Arcand-Paul is Cree from Alexander First Nation.
Another riding to watch will be Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo where candidate Tanika Chaisson, of the Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland, is facing off against two-time incumbent UCP Tany Yao. Yao lost the UCP nomination but ended up being appointed to the position after candidate Zulkifl Mujahid was disqualified because he is being sued for defamation.
Chaisson is a laboratory technician at Suncor Energy, as well as a Unifor member.
First Nations and Métis Nations in the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo riding have been critical of UCP Premier Danielle Smith and the Alberta Energy Regulator after multiple leaks at the Kearl Oilsands site were revealed to Indigenous communities downstream almost a year after the first occurrences.
According to the 2021 Canada Census, 12.5 per cent of the population of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo is Indigenous. However, there is no indication as to how many are eligible to vote.
Rounding out the NDP slate of Indigenous candidates is Richard Bruneau in Camrose.
The NDP’s five Indigenous candidates are two more than the party had in the 2019 election.
The Green Party has five Indigenous candidates out of their slate of 41. In 2019 the Greens ran four Indigenous candidates, including party leader Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, Cree-Métis, from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. Chagnon-Greyeyes stepped down five months after the election.
Carrying the banner for the Green’s in Red Deer-North is Heather Morigeau, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Morigeau is challenging UCP incumbent and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and says she’s neither anxious nor worried about the match-up.
“I feel that a lot of Albertans right now are concerned about the direction the province is going in. They have concerns about the way health care is being mismanaged and the way our finances are being given to corporations, instead of ensuring social services are available to everyone,” said Morigeau. “This is pushing people to look beyond what they've always voted for.”
Morigeau also ran for the Green Party in 2019 in the riding of Calgary-Buffalo.
Green candidate Jonathan Parks is hoping to unseat an NDP MLA in Calgary-Buffalo. Calgary is viewed as a battleground that could dictate whether the UCP or NDP forms the next government. Parks is of Métis heritage from Ontario.
Hoping to add Green to the Orange tide in Edmonton are two Métis candidates, Tyler Beaulac in Edmonton-North West, and Cheri Hawley in Edmonton-Whitemud. Both candidates are facing NDP incumbents.
Tigra-Lee Campbell, whose father is Indigenous and mother is Jamaican, is running for the Green’s in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright.
The Alberta Party has two Indigenous candidates on their slate of 22. In 2019, they fielded the most Indigenous candidates at five.
Lynn Lekisch, who is Cree and Beaver, is running in Central Peace Notley, while Patrick Stewart is running in Edmonton Castle Downs.
Stewart says he has been door knocking, wearing his Métis sash on his hat and getting a warm reception from Indigenous voters. While there is a high Indigenous concentration in the riding, Stewart doesn’t believe they represent a swing vote.
He says about 70 per cent of those he has spoken to are undecided.
What he is hearing, says Stewart, is that people are weary of the “division and tension in the binary political mess we find ourselves in” and the time is now for a minority government, something that has never happened in Alberta.
“I cannot recall a time when the race was this close. Having a few representatives in the middle who are open to collaborating with all parties for the betterment of our community would be an ideal situation for Albertans,” said Stewart.
Going into this election, the UCP had 60 seats, the NDP had 23 and there were two independent members. Both independent members had been elected under either the UCP or NDP banner before leaving their respective parties to sit on their own.
The Alberta Liberal Party, which had three Indigenous candidates in 2019, have no Indigenous candidates this election.
The Freedom Conservative Party ran 24 candidates last election, including one Indigenous candidate. The FCP is not participating this time around.
In total, 12 parties are running in 2023 with seven having slates with more than 10 candidates.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.