The Acho Dene Koe First Nation plans another attempt at electing a new chief in “early spring,” officials say – almost two years after it should have happened.
A new chief was supposed to be elected in June 2020. The First Nation used pandemic-related federal legislation to twice postpone the election, then an appeals committee ordered that the results of an April 2021 election be scrapped.
Since then, a court has ruled the First Nation didn’t have the authority to postpone its election in the first place and an acting sub-chief has been appointed to provide leadership in the interim.
The problem now is finding someone to run a new election.
Boyd Clark, the Fort Liard-based First Nation’s band manager, told Cabin Radio hiring a new elections officer has been “extremely challenging.” He said the First Nation’s 2017 election was “highly contentious” and the latest election has followed suit.
On October 8, the First Nation said on Facebook four out of five candidates had declined offers to take the role.
Clark told Cabin Radio the fifth individual is interested but has other commitments to juggle.
“We’re hoping that by this end of this month we’ll have that finalized,” said Clark, “and then an agreement would be in place with that individual to serve as the elections officer.
“Based upon the timeframe in the election code and because of the availability of the individual, we’re looking at an early spring election.”
A new appeals committee will have to be identified and confirmed by council before the election is called. Lawyer Garth Wallbridge previously held the role, forming a one-man committee. Clark said others have expressed interest in taking that job this time around.
Will Bertrand run?
Floyd Bertrand, a former chief initially barred from running in this election over a debt – a decision the appeals committee rejected – said communication to First Nation members had been inadequate.
A rule disqualifying candidates who owe significant sums to the band is likely to remain in place for the next election. While the appeals committee said the statute of limitations had expired on Bertrand’s alleged debt, the First Nation says most of its members answering a recent survey wanted the debt rule to be applied regardless of the debt’s age.
Clark said if Bertrand chooses to run, the new elections officer would have to “rule on the debt that he owes based upon the decision of the [previous] appeals committee” and, from there, decide whether to consider Bertrand eligible.
Bertrand and the First Nation remain actively opposed in federal court, where Bertrand is seeking to have the court force the First Nation comply with the appeals committee’s order to hold a new election and appoint a new electoral officer (the First Nation says it is trying to do those things).
Both sides still need to submit evidence and affidavits before cross-examination can occur. The timeline for the remaining steps in the case appears to stretch into the new year.