Kenora MP Eric Melillo is continuing to question the federal government on why 1,600 voters from three northwestern Ontario communities weren’t able to vote on election night.
In a new report released earlier this week, Elections Canada explains Cat Lake First Nation, Poplar Hill First Nation and Pikangikum First Nation all had their local polling place cancelled ahead of election day, despite polls being advertised on residents’ voter information cards.
Their report says once the election was called, upon learning of a conflict with hunting and cultural activities taking place on election day, the returning officer replaced the election day poll with a one-day advance poll.
However, the change was not communicated to community leadership ahead of election day. Elections Canada says they only became aware of the issue on election day by media reports, too late to take action.
As well, advance polls for these three communities were held in Sioux Lookout and Red Lake, located between 143 and 283 kilometres away from the communities, by plane, which Elections Canada says were ‘clearly not a realistic voting opportunity.’
When community leaders raised their concerns about the impracticality of voting by mail for remote communities, but requests for other arrangements were denied by Elections Canada.
“The incident in these three communities points to a need for Elections Canada to review how it plans for and delivers public education and election services in First Nations communities,” wrote Elections Canada, in their report.
“Elections Canada apologizes to any elector who was unable to vote because of the gaps in voting services and the breakdowns of communication.”
At the House of Commons, Kenora MP Eric Melillo recently had the opportunity to question Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault about these issues for constituents in his riding.
Melillo noted all electoral candidates were aware of some of the voting issues ahead of time, but he was ‘shocked’ to see the community wasn’t made aware of the changes.
“I had a call from the Chief of Pikangikum who told me that there was never any communication to him that that was going to be the case. In North West Angle, the Chief reached out to me to ask where her polling station was. I found out that she was actually listed as the contact for the polling station. Clearly a breakdown of communication, to put it mildly.”
He noted there were also concerns in Red Lake where the advanced polling station was not where it should have been, which when he shared that information on Facebook, was flagged for misinformation by Elections Canada.
“There were clearly some widespread, systemic, structural issues that go far beyond just one or two communities. How do we explain that?” asked Melillo.
“I share your shock and anger,” said Perrault, in response. “We were not informed of those changes. I was not aware that the polling day had been cancelled.”
“That sounds like something you should be aware of,” quickly responded Melillo.
Elections Canada apologized for their error in early November and in February, saying they would continue to investigate what happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Perrault adds that a cancellation of a polling location is ‘extraordinary’ and communication to residents clearly did not take place in the Kenora riding.
He notes the Returning Officer in charge of this election has since retired, and they will be working closely with northwestern Ontario communities ahead of the next election.
Their new report adds voters also reported issues in Grassy Narrows First Nation, where the polling location opened late, and Wabauskang First Nation, where voter information cards of five voters listed the wrong polling place.
Elections Canada says these issues were ‘unfortunate’, but they do happen on occasion.
The 44th federal election was held on September 20, 2021. The cost of election, which once again resulted in a minority Liberal government, was estimated to be $630 million.