Frequently Asked Questions - First Nations Elections Act

Q.1. What is the Indian Act election system?

The Indian Act election system is a set of rules in sections 74 thru 79 of the Act, and related regulations called the Indian Band Election Regulations. Two hundred and thirty eight (238) First Nations currently hold their elections under this system (see the Understanding First Nation Election Fact Sheet for additional information).

Q.2. Why was there a need for a new election regime for First Nations and how was it developed?

The Indian Act election system contains weaknesses that create instability in First Nations governments. The First Nations Elections Act is part of the Government's commitment to provide frameworks that support stronger, more stable and effective First Nations governments.

This new legislation provides a robust election system that individual First Nations can choose to opt in to that will support the political stability necessary for First Nations governments to make solid business investments, carry out long term planning and build relationships, all of which will lead to increased economic development and job creation for First Nations communities.

The legislation was developed based on recommendations provided by the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs following a national engagement process.

Q.3. How is the First Nations Elections Act different from current Indian Act provisions?

The First Nations Elections Act provides the following improvements over the Indian Act election system:

  • four year terms of office (instead of two)
  • more robust process for the nomination of candidates
  • common election day for six or more First Nations who want it
  • penalties for offences
  • no role for the Ministerin election appeals

Four year terms will help First Nations create the political stability necessary to make long term planning and build relationships with potential investors that could lead to increased economic development.

More robust process for the nomination of candidates where governance anomalies, such as the same individual being elected to both the position of chief and councillor, are not permitted. Also, nominees are required to accept their nominations before becoming a candidate, and First Nations may choose to introduce a fee for candidacy of up to $250. These measures will go a long way in ensuring that serious and committed candidates are on the ballot.

Common election day provisions will allow a minimum of six First Nations who so wish to line up their terms of office and hold elections on the same day. This could be very advantageous to joint undertakings involving First Nations in a given region.

Penalties for offences that will deter questionable election activities such as obstructing the electoral process, vote buying or offering bribes, similar to those found in other election laws.

No role for the Minister in election appeals, which will now be decided by the courts, just as they would in federal, provincial, and municipal elections.

Q.4. Does the First Nations Elections Act apply to all First Nations that hold elections under the Indian Act?

No, the legislation's election system is optional, so it would only apply to First Nations under the Indian Act election system if they choose to "opt in". All First Nations may wish to consider the benefits of opting in to the First Nations Elections Act, but those who feel that the Indian Act system suits their needs can continue to hold their elections under it.

Q.5. Has the Indian Act election system changed?

No, the Indian Act election system remains the same. However, the First Nations Elections Act provides another legislative option under which First Nations can hold their elections. First Nations who feel that the Indian Act election system no longer works for them can choose the First Nations Elections Act.

Q.6. Will this affect First Nations who hold their elections under their own community or custom election code?

No, First Nations who do not wish to "opt in" to the First Nations Elections Act can continue to hold their elections according to their own rules.

Q.7. Can a First Nation hold its next election under the First Nations Elections Act?

Regulations must be developed around the details of an election process, such as the establishment of voters lists, the provision of notices, the nomination of candidates, voting by mail and in person, and the counting of the votes. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has partnered with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs to develop the regulations.

Q.8. How can I participate and share my views on the drafting of regulations?

You may read the draft regulations in the Canada Gazette and make comments according to the directions provided.

Q.9. How were the draft regulations developed?

The draft regulations were developed jointly by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APC). In March 2014, the APC held two workshops, attended by electoral officers and First Nations representatives, to discuss and propose content for these election regulations. Recommendations were summarized in a discussion guide that was made available and widely distributed between September and November 2014.

Q.10. How and when can a First Nation hold its election under the First Nations Election Act?

First Nations will not be able to hold their elections under the First Nations Elections Act until the regulations have been made by the Governor in Council. Once the regulations have passed, First Nations councils, after having consulted with their communities, can adopt a band council resolution asking the Minister to add the name of the First Nation to a schedule. When the Minister adds the name to the schedule, the date of the First Nation’s election will be established. At this point, the electoral process can launch.

Q.11. The elections in my First Nation are held under the Indian Act. Will my Chief and Council be speaking to the community about this new electoral option?

Every First Nation Council can look at the First Nations Elections Act and make an assessment as to whether it presents a better option for holding elections. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has sent a letter to each First Nation Council to inform them of the passage of the First Nations Elections Act and to invite them to share the information with their community and hold discussions.