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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lynn Lekisch, who is Cree and Beaver, is running in Central Peace Notley, while Patrick Stewart is running in Edmonton Castle Downs.
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.