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Saskatoon man works to turn out local aboriginal vote

Watch above: The federal election campaign pushed on today as leaders looked to sway voters in a tight race. However there’s one demographic that could prove pivotal in choosing the next prime minister. And as Joel Senick reports, one Saskatoon man is working to get them to the polls.

SASKATOON – A Saskatoon man hopes to persuade more aboriginal residents to vote in the upcoming election by visiting northern communities in the province. Marcel Petit and a group plan to visit roughly ten northern Saskatchewan reserves in an effort to educate residents on the voting process.

“It’s about communication and engagement … talking to people, engage them and get them excited,” said Petit in downtown Saskatoon Thursday.

“We’re willing to go for two-and-a-half days on a road trip and go to all these places and probably stink like hell after a day-and-a-half,” he added.

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IN DEPTH: Federal Election 2015

On-reserve voter turnout has been lower than the general Canadian public in recent elections. In 2011, 46.4 per cent of First Nation’s people living on reserves voted, compared to 61.1 per cent nationally, according to Elections Canada.

“In this election in particular, aboriginal people in Canada, if they come out and vote in numbers comparable to the mainstream population, [they] can decide who’s going to be our next prime minister,” said Greg Poelzer a University of Saskatchewan political science professor.

Poelzer said 20 ridings across Canada have historically been decided by a margin that was a fraction of the aboriginal vote which didn’t turn out.

“In a three-way race that we’re seeing right now, twenty ridings is going to determine who’s going to be prime minister,” he said.

READ MORE: AFN Chief Bellegarde will vote for first time in a federal election

Aboriginal voter turnout numbers aren’t linked to apathy, according to Poelzer. He says studies show indigenous groups are more politically active in elections that relate to their communities.

“If you look at voting participating at band level elections, even provincial it’s higher,” he said.

“If you don’t feel your issues are being talked about or that you don’t matter in the campaign, why would you be engaged,” he said, referring to one reason why he believes turnout has been lower in federal campaigns.

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Aboriginal issues have been more central to this election campaign, according to Poelzer, which may make Petit’s job easier. His group also held a public forum Wednesday night in Saskatoon to discuss how indigenous issues relate to voting.

“You get three hundred thousand aboriginal and Inuit and Métis people voting across Canada, that’s a lot of people.”