The brand new chief and council of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Wabasca got the rug pulled out from under them last week. The arbitrator looking into appeals of the Oct. 29 election ruled in favour of the appellants, citing various discrepancies, and ordered a new election for Dec. 18.
Arbitrator Gordon McKenzie’s decision was emailed to The Leader last week. It says people who were not eligible to vote were allowed to vote, and people who were eligible were not allowed.
“The evidence established that both occurred,” says the report, “and that there were over 100 votes that fell into those two categories. That is enough to affect all positions on council, leaving no choice but to direct a new election for all positions.”
One of the factors leading to the problems at polling stations was that the BCN “did not provide an updated list of electors to the electoral officer,” says McKenzie’s report.
That’s just one item in a long list of problems with the election, including discrepancies at five of the six polling stations. In Slave Lake, for example, 147 people received ballots, but 148 votes were cast for chief. The discrepancies were larger at other polling stations.
“At this point,” the report continues, “there is no way of determining whether only eligible people voted, all votes were counted” or “all ballots are properly accounted for.”
Whether a new election jeopardizes the success of the recently-elected chief and council is a good question. Former councillor Clara Moberly was elected as chief over eight other contenders for the position. Elected with her to council for Wabasca were Ken L. Alook, Dwayne Yellowknee, Helen Alook, Robert Cardinal, Lawrence D. Oar and Don E. Gambler. Elected for from Calling Lake were Loretta J. Gladue and Lillian J. Anderson. From Chipewyan Lake: Ivan J. Alook and Stella Noskiye.
One thing that could influence the vote is a campaign against $60,000 bonuses that the previous chief and council voted themselves. This was mentioned in an APTN National News story on the arbitrator’s ruling, posted online on Nov. 28. The band’s lawyer Terry Antonello said in a letter on the subject that the bonus was a conflict of interest and should be paid back. However, another opinion on the subject comes from Indigenous Services Canada: when it comes to revenue from band-owned businesses it says, it’s up to the duly elected officials to decide on their compensation.
The APTN article quotes former chief Gordon Auger as saying he and council deserved the bonus because the company was profitable.