In his column “Special Status Solves Nothing” in today’s Prince George Citizen, in which he claims, without the slightest evidence, that Lheidli T’enneh would have ratified the proposed treaty with Canada and British Columbia were it not for off-reserve votes, Bruce Strachan asks:
…name one other Canadian electorial jurisdiction where a resident of
another community has the special right to return home only at election time and cast a ballot
Okay, here’s a civics lesson for Mr. Strachan. In federal elections, Canadians resident abroad may vote by special ballot. In provincial elections, a resident of British Columbia who is temporarily outside the province may also vote by special ballot. See the Compendium of Election Administration in Canada. It is true that BC restricts the vote to those normally resident in the province. However, at the local level, BC also provides for non-resident property electors. If you live in one jurisdiction but own property in another, you may vote in both. This is a very explicit recognition that someone may live in one place but have ties to another that give him or her a sufficient stake in government to make it appropriate to vote there.
It turns out that, even without taking into account the special status of band membership, our electoral system provides close parallels to the practice of allowing off-reserve band members to vote.
Here’s another fact to consider. Most band members who live off-reserve live nearby. In the case of Lheidli T’enneh, most off-reserve members live in Prince George. These are not people who have voluntarily moved away from their home. They are people who are still living in their home community, but whose home has been chopped up and colonized by other people. The reserve represents a tiny fraction of Lheidli T’enneh territory. The reserve lands were deliberately located away from the resources of Prince George. The Lheidli T’enneh were deliberately pushed out of central Prince George to Shelley when the railroad came in in 1911. Many Lheidli T’enneh people simply cannot live on reserve because there isn’t enough housing for them.