Inuktitut could be on ballots by next federal vote, says Canada’s head of elections

A pilot project that would see Elections Canada partner with Elections Nunavut needs approval from Parliament, says Stéphane Perrault.

Canada’s chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, shown signing the writ for the 2021 election, said he is ready to include Inuktitut on the federal ballot in Nunavut by the next election, if Parliament gives the OK for a pilot project to do so. (Elections Canada via Nunatsiaq News)

Canada’s chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, says he hopes to see Inuktitut on Nunavut ballots for the next federal election.

The House of Commons standing committee on procedure and house affairs recommended the change in a report it released in June.

The report studies the inclusion of Indigenous languages on federal election ballots and concludes that as a pilot project, Elections Canada should partner with Elections Nunavut to include Inuit languages on federal election ballots in the Nunavut riding.

The pilot still needs to be approved by Parliament.

Perrault said candidates and federal parties would need to provide their names in Inuktitut for them to appear on ballots in Nunavut, but that shouldn’t be a problem because most candidates speak the language and can provide their own translations.

“I think that does not present any insurmountable challenge from my point of view,” he said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

Perrault only spoke about Inuktitut, as the details for the pilot project are still being worked out and he is unsure if Inuinnaqtun would also be present on the ballot.

One of the barriers to this, however, is that the law requires the name on the ballot to be the same on a piece of identification, and the government can’t expect people to have identification with different versions of their names, he said.

That rule would have to change.

“Quite frankly, we can do anything we want if the legislation is amended,” Perrault said.

It’s unclear if the Elections Act would need to be amended in order for the pilot project to go ahead.

“But, in terms of pilot projects, there are actually mechanisms in the Canada Elections Act that allow Elections Canada to pilot changes that would otherwise require legislative change, without that change being in place,” said Matthew McKenna, a spokesperson for Elections Canada.

On June 22, Nunavut MP Lori Idlout tabled a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act so voters have access to ballots in an Indigenous language. This was about six months after the standing committee agreed to study the issue.

Idlout, who participated in the standing committee’s report as well, said she hopes her bill passes by the next federal election.

Having Inuktitut on the ballot is part of a larger conversation about barriers to voting, which Perrault said can have an impact on voter turnout.

In last September’s federal election, 34 per cent of eligible voters in Nunavut cast their ballot, compared to 62 per cent across the country, according to Elections Canada.

Perrault said he wants to do a better job at having Inuit languages at all stages of the process, not just on the ballots.

“It’s creating a more welcoming linguistic environment,” he said.

Perrault, who was in Iqaluit this week for the 2022 Conference of Canadian Election Officials, is also on the lookout for a new returning officer for the riding of Nunavut.

The returning officer is responsible for running the election in the territory and helping Elections Canada with outreach for voter engagement, Perrault said.

“We very much rely on the knowledge of the people on the ground. Our returning officer is our biggest asset as someone who knows the community and understands those challenges,” he said.

In 2018, the last time Elections Canada posted a job application to hire a returning officer in Nunavut, it received hardly any applications over the summer.