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THUNDER BAY — Elections Canada has announced plans to reach out to Indigenous communities to identify ways to improve access to electoral services before the next federal vote.

"We are making efforts to reduce barriers faced by Indigenous voters," a statement from the agency’s media section says.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River is among 28 ridings across the country where Elections Canada staff will begin consultations with First Nations and other Indigenous communities starting this spring.

The riding of Kenora is also on the list, but Thunder Bay-Superior North is not.

In a response to questions from Tbnewswatch, the office of Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault said that the ridings it selected for the special outreach were those "where, at the last general election, electors had to travel farther for advance polls, and where there was a high volume of polling day registrations."

The consultations will include leaders of First Nations living on reserve as well as First Nations and Metis communities living in urban areas.

In addition to consulting local leaders to plan electoral services, the statement said that local returning officers in the 28 ridings will have additional contacts with Indigenous communities by, for example, taking part in local events "in order to build stronger relationships with communities."

In the 2015 election, voter turnout for registered electors living on reserves was 61.5 per cent, compared with 47.4 per cent in the 2011 election. The turnout among the general Canadian population in 2015 was about 67 per cent.

Elections Canada says the gap between turnout on reserves and turnout among the general population was the lowest since it began calculating turnout for Aboriginal populations in 2004.

However, Elections Canada does not capture demographic information at polling stations. Its data on participation is limited to electors living on reserves, where it counted about 361,000 voters eligible for the 2015 election.

Statistics Canada recently estimated there are nearly 1.7 million Canadians of Aboriginal descent.

Perrault, the acting Chief Electoral Officer, has said the purpose of the outreach is not to try to persuade Indigenous people to vote, but to ensure there are no administrative barriers within the system that limit access for those who choose to participate.

The next general election is scheduled for October 21, 2019. More Local News

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