ABM is about economic reconciliation because it is what happens when Indigenous and non-Indigenous decision makers connect to create opportunities for business.
Economic power and political engagement are coupled to achieve self-determination for any individual, but the importance of this interdependent relationship is amplified for Indigenous communities. Their presence at ABM does not only show that Elections Canada understands this, but it also provides a concrete opportunity for dialogue and action. A conversation with Chelsea Honeyman and Lisa Drouillard of Elections Canada gave insight into how they see their role in relation to economic reconciliation.
Honeyman explained how elections affect the economy, clarifying “We don’t directly impact our economy in the way that business might, though there are economic impacts to an election. While we are not partisan, we are tied to the political process. The reason that we go to ABM is that the leaders who attend to make decisions for the economic betterment of their communities are also the ones that make decisions about other important issues in their communities.”
Elections Canada’s goal is to reach out to communities and they spoke about why community outreach is so important. “When you are working from central headquarters of any public serviceagency, you don’t get a sense of what goes on locally. Local outreach is difficult. At most trade shows you have very quick conversations to try to get a message across or pass on a little piece of information, but you don’t get those in-depth discussions you do at ABM. They allow in turn to learn from people in depth. At ABM you have quality interactions, you get to know people one-on-one and getting back to that economic reconciliation piece, there’s so much that needs to be done to build trust and relationships in so many dimensions in Canada. This is one small way in our outreach that is really creative and effective. We don’t often get that from our outreach experiences elsewhere.
In that way, I think our role is similar to a lot of private sector operators. They also participate because even if you run the flashiest ad campaign in the world, you will not make any progress in terms of deals unless you have boots on the ground in community. We don’t have deals to make, but we do have similar requirements in terms of engagement with communities to figure out what their needs are so that we can serve them better. What we are selling is free, but nonetheless, there are a lot of free things that people don’t want until they establish an environment of trust.”
The face-to-face, one-on-one format to build trust is one that Elections Canada found to be consistent with the philosophy of their acting Chief Electoral Officer. “The one-on-one format means you end up not thinking about people as institutions, but as individuals. This forum provides us the opportunity to start at the individual level and on the long road of dialogue and reconciliation in our own idiosyncratic way or at least our small corner of that world.”
Part of economic reconciliation presents itself as employment opportunities offered by Elections Canada in First Nations communities and for First Nations people in urban areas. Honeyman and Drouillard explained, “It’s not a career, it’s a really nice pivot, it’s an awesome first job, it’s a great opportunity. If you’ve been working at a coffee shop and you want to add a different type of reference that talks about your ability to work with the public, to manage processes and reporting, working with Elections Canada can provide that.”
Coming back to the decision to attend ABM, the format itself was a natural fit for Elections Canada. Drouillard explained, “There seems to be a lot about ABM that’s about democratizing. Opening up channels to connect decision makers democratizes access to economic opportunity. That’s where we’re speaking the same language. We attend because we also want to open up access to decision making and make sure that every person in Canada has the information they need to be equal players in deciding the future of the country.”
Honeyman agreed, noting “Appointments are only scheduled based on mutual interest which I feel is a great avenue for us. If people are interested in learning more, we are so happy to have that discussion, that dialogue so ABM’s format works great for us. We send out invitations and get some who decline and that’s fine. When we get some who accept, we know this is a conversation that both sides are interested in. We then learn from and listen to each other. We don’t want to impose, but for those who are interested in getting information, ABM’s format works really well.”
Elections Canada is interested in supporting Indigenous decision makers. At the polls Indigenous people are empowered. “At the end of the day, people tend to vote based on things that they care about and that are important to them. Those are generally issue-based. It could be schooling, health care or housing. We’re happy to be an ear for people to voice those issues and think about what is important to them. We’re not partisan but we are absolutely thrilled to be part of that process for people to think and potentially act either by voting or doing any number of civic engagement activities that help get them to what their vision of a community is.”