From marginal to margin of victory? Ridings where Aboriginal vote could make or break majority

If you’re an eligible Aboriginal elector who does not subscribe to the notion that participation in Canadian elections is inappropriate, be it as a candidate or as a voter, you may be curious to know whether your vote could prove decisive in your local race.

Certain ridings (officially known as federal electoral districts) have now reached a critical mass of Aboriginal people of voting age, prompting some to crunch the numbers so as to highlight the theoretical possibility of those voters effectively ‘swinging’ the riding, that is, delivering the margin of victory for any candidate who caters to their concerns. This is an unusual position for Aboriginal people to be in: so much so, it may partly explain why they don’t seem to ever vote as a bloc. As far as I can recollect, no-one’s specifically researched into that.

But it’s hardly a unique thought: in fact, it is now almost routine for wonks like me to undertake the exercise of calculating where a hypothetically cohesive Aboriginal vote — call it the brown bloc — could be what tips one party to victory or not.

Indeed, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo recently suggested there are some 60 ridings where Aboriginal votes could, unified behind a candidate, help push that person to victory. Here, I only wish to present twelve, or 12 at a time, anyway.

Why only a dozen ridings, you ask? Well, I am a single-digit typist, for one thing. But in fact, I only need 12 examples to make my point: that, in a divided House like these past few Parliaments, Aboriginal people currently possess on paper the electoral numbers needed to make or break the majority government aspirations of the Conservative Party, the only party in a position (as of the drop of the writ) to do so. That’s because, as noted by the Toronto Star, the Tories are exactly 12 seats shy of forming such a majority in the 308-seat House.

Drawing on data gratefully gleaned from the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) and Pundits’ Guide, I have put together the following series of tables, each featuring 12 ridings, sorted in three different ways:

  • Table 1: By rank of Aboriginal people as a proportion of all the people in a riding
  • Table 2: By rank of Aboriginal people as a percentage of the electorate only, i.e., those of eligible voting age
  • Table 3: By rank of Aboriginal electorate vs. 2008 margin of victory

Each table ranks the (latent) potency of the Aboriginal vote in different ways in different ridings (with a certain amount of overlap), and not all ridings see the Aboriginal proportion of the population or electorate exceed the margin of victory as determined in the 2008 election. That said, for many of these ridings, Aboriginal voters are not only in a great position to rock or block a Harper majority, they may arguably be able to do so in a way that could promote a pro-Aboriginal agenda — or at least in a way that serves to halt one that is decidedly anti-Aboriginal. Which party deserves to be slotted where is, well, up to you.


The first table sorts its ‘Top 12′ ridings out by Aboriginal population, with figures for columns A & B coming via Pundits’ Guide (which in turn drew them from the Census). Through this lens, we see that of the 12 ridings (or FEDs) listed here, 10 of them (or 83 per cent) had the Conservatives coming first or second in 2008 (they won six).

[table id=9 /]


The second Top 12 is tabulated and sorted by Aboriginal electorate, with Column D’s figures based on data released by the Chiefs of Ontario and Column E’s based on Pundits’ Guide, which I then used to calculate Column F. Here, nine of the 12 FEDs had Conservatives coming first or second (winning five).

[table id=10 /]


The third Top 12 is tabulated and sorted by the difference between the percentage of Aboriginal electorate and the percentage of margin of victory in 2008, as shown by Column G. Once again, 10 of the 12 FEDs saw Conservatives finish in first or second in 2008 (victorious in five).

[table id=11 /]

Three tables later, one realizes that a total of 19 different ridings actually emerge as potential — and I stress potential — sources of Aboriginal power at the ballot box. Whether that potential will ever be realized remains, as ever, an open question.

8 thoughts on “From marginal to margin of victory? Ridings where Aboriginal vote could make or break majority

  1. I’ve also identified 31 or 32 inuit, métis and first nations candidates running in the election. Please contact me if you would like the names, or to swap notes in case I’ve missed anyone.

    Glad that data could be of help. Hope we get some decent data from the 2011 pseudo-census!



  2. Brother, I commend you on this, and there’s no need to insult yourself as a wonk!

    The issue of whether or not it’s right for Aboriginal people to vote in dominant-society elections is very difficult and I generally agree against doing it. I feel – and here I identify myself as a Zaganashi-que – that the people have a right, even a duty, to defend themselves by whatever means necessary from the worst the dominant society produces, and we know who They are.

    The Liberals seem to me only superficially better. The NDP are the lesser evil I think – not to be trusted of course since they have their priories where the good of Aboriginal people does not rank very high.

    But it seems to me that, at this crucial time, we either start to get rid of the Harperites or be saddled with them for a very long and bad time – worse than many people’s nightmares.

    Sorry to be a bit scattered here, but I’ve never been so politically scared – not for myself (61), but for the people I care about and for Mother Earth.

    Meegwetch for this good article and what else you do.

    Susan Campbell

  3. After doing this exercise, it occurred to me that, were I to design a strategy for launching an all-Indigenous political party, I would field candidates in these very ridings. Interestingly, a number of them have no Aboriginal candidates at all.

  4. I don’t align with any political party and I appreciate the philosophical debate about whether Aboriginal people should vote, but as a criminal defence and child welfare defence lawyer I am downright scared about the conservative tactics and “law and order” agenda . With the over representation of Aboriginal people in the “system” whether it be the child welfare system or criminal “justice” system continuing and the Conservatives committing billions to prisons – we are the raw material for a system that is a growth economy. That money would be better used to provide social supports and healing, clean water, more resources for education and honoring treaty obligations. I don’t believe my ancestors who negotiated education rights in the treaties expected us to sit by as observers, we and our children participate in Canadian society in so many ways – voting is a right we deserve and should exercise. By the way, if you feel you can’t make your vote count check out to register and have your vote count where it makes a difference.

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