Idlout tables bill to put Indigenous languages on election ballots

Nunavut MP hopes Bill C-297 has time to pass before 2025 election

Iqaluit residents are seen here lining up to vote in the 2021 federal election at the Royal Canadian Legion. (File photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout hopes to get Indigenous languages included on federal election ballots through a private member’s bill she introduced in the House of Commons last week.

Idlout, an NDP member who was elected last September, tabled Bill C-297, which would amend the Canada Elections Act “to provide that, in certain circumstances, electors are to be supplied with ballots in an Indigenous language,” according to the text of the bill.

It’s not the first time a Nunavut politician has attempted to address the lack of Indigenous languages on election ballots, which are in Canada’s two official languages, English and French.

Last year, former Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Sen. Dennis Patterson and territorial official languages commissioner Karliin Aariak sounded the alarm over the lack of voting services in Inuktitut.

The absence of Indigenous languages on federal ballots is an impediment to Indigenous Canadians being able to vote, Idlout said in an interview Monday.

In the case of Nunavut, only 34 per cent of the territory’s 21,332 eligible voters went to the polls in September’s federal election, compared to the national turnout of 62 per cent, according to data from Elections Canada.

“I think that, as a way to start ensuring that Indigenous peoples can be engaged in the process is for them to see their languages on the ballot,” Idlout said.

Bill C-297 is not the only area where Idlout has addressed the Indigenous ballot issue.

Asked how getting Indigenous languages on ballots would be implemented, Idlout highlighted a report on that issue by the Procedure and House Affairs committee, to which she contributed.

Among the report’s four recommendations, the committee urged Elections Canada to participate in a pilot project with Elections Nunavut to get Inuit languages on the ballot for the federal riding of Nunavut.

“That shows what we’ve heard from Canadians, what we’ve heard from people about how we could meet that challenge of getting Indigenous languages on the ballot, so it will be a matter of making sure that that work can carry forward with the work that’s already started,” she said.

Like government bills, private member’s bills must pass first, second and third readings in the House of Commons and then the Senate to become law. Unlike government bills, they don’t have the backing of the party in power, so it’s harder for them to work their way through Parliament.

However, if they’re not passed or are voted down prior to an election being called, they die.

Idlout said she’s in for the long haul with this bill. As a newer MP in the party with the fourth-highest number of seats, Idlout said her private member’s bill is lower on the list of bills than those proposed by MPs from other parties.

Add to that, the House of Commons will not meet again until September because the legislative sitting came to an end last week.

Idlout said she remains hopeful her bill will pass, and said she thinks the recent agreement her party made to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government until 2025 buys her time to get it done.

“I’m just very excited to have finally have tabled my first bill,” she said. “I’m really hopeful that it’ll get past all the stages so that we could hopefully, someday, we’ll see it become the law.”

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Go For It on

    Go for it, as long as I see Urdu and other minority languages on ballots in Iqaluit and other places where numbers warrant.

    I would like thank the author for using the appropriate and correct “Inuit languages’ rather than PC but incorrect and oppressive “Inuit language”.

    • Posted by Oppenheimer on

      On which ballot did you see Urdu?

  2. Posted by Putting this out there on

    I think this is a good thing, though i dont think that is the reason Nunavut had such a low turn out for the last election Apathy that is the reason, the realization (or belief) that it really doesn’t matter who is elected, even when we had a representative that was a Minister with the leading party, they can just as easily throw it away for some booze and a fling with staff. Or a young energetic activist, in both cases in the end nothing happens.

    But hopefully she is successful on at least one of her projects.

    • Posted by Hullabaloo on

      I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this either. That said, if it does become her only accomplishment it will at least be more than either of our last two MP’s delivered.

  3. Posted by sanimut on

    finally, the 15% who vote will see inuktitut on the ballot. yaay!

  4. Posted by 867 on

    Another non-issue that is being brought up to appease her voter base. I guess its campaigning time already?

    Every election I’ve been to has had the candidates’ names translated into Inuktitut on the walls for everyone to see. If she’s all about inclusivity, how about brail for the blind? How about pictures of the candidates for those that cannot read?

  5. Posted by Taxpayer on

    During the 2021 NTI Presidential Election, the voter turnout was 17.5%, abysmally low. That election had full Inuktun election materials, and the voter turnout there was half of the federal election turnout cited above in the news story. To link the language of the election to voter participation is obviously false. Primarily, what our voters appear to need is something worthwhile (issues and candidates) to vote for. This is something that appears to be decidedly absent from democracy in Nunavut.

  6. Posted by S on

    Such a bill represents equal measures of racism and pretension

    • Posted by Neverending story on

      The steady stream of non-sense from S is about as predictable as the migration of geese each spring.

  7. Posted by NIGEL SPENCER on


  8. Posted by Mass Formation on

    All the serious issues happening across Nunavut now, and the coming food shortages, Nunavut’s MP picks a whopper-nothing-burger. Why? She comments that the agreement to support the Liberals until 2025 is a good thing. If it is, why didn’t she before voting yes to become a Liberal/NDP MP, visit Nunavut Hamlets or talk on every local radio, asking what we want her to do? Because Nunavut did not vote for Liberal. What does it take for our Nunavut MP to listen to and stand for the people across Nunavut? And if we write to our Nunavut MP, why no reply? Nunavut needs an MP, not one controlled by strings.

  9. Posted by Oh my goodness on

    There are 70 indigenous languages in canada.

    • Posted by Yep on

      Or many more depending on how you count- imagine how confusing that ballot would be!

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