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Gwichya Gwich'in vote postponed
Band in process of ratifying new election code, only needs three more votes to reach quorum

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, June 15, 2015

The Gwichya Gwich'in Band in Tsiigehtchic has postponed an election set for today.

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Graeme Drew: Consultant to Gwichya Gwich'in Band confident new election code will be ratified soon.

An election committee decided on May 29 that the vote should be delayed by two months to mid-August to allow time for a proposed election code to be ratified by band members.

The band had been planning to proceed with the vote for a chief and five councillors using the unratified election code. However, once the nomination period closed on May 25, one candidate was accepted by the election committee even though that person's name did not appear on the voter's list, which is a decision permitted by a provision of the proposed election code.

However, that decision prompted a letter of appeal.

The election committee therefore decided not to proceed with the election because the code was not yet ratified.

Graeme Drew, a Vancouver-based consultant working with the band on the proposed election code, agrees with the decision to defer the election.

"It's not putting the cart before the horse," he said.

Drew explained the band had been following the spirit and intent of the proposed code because of a high level of support for it among those who have voted in an ongoing referendum.

"We're still at just over 70 per cent support for the code," he noted.

The Gwichya Gwich'in Band has been trying since April to get enough votes from members to ratify the proposed election code through mail-in ballots, and continuing online and telephone voting.

The band also held an election April 15 so band members could cast ballots at a polling station.

Originally, leaders were trying to reach a 20 per cent quorum of the 368 eligible voters in the band, which works out to 73 votes.

As of June 11, it had collected 42 votes.

However, a recent court decision in Quebec has set a precedent that will affect the referendum.

Drew explained the court ruled a First Nation - which was in a similar situation as the Gwichya Gwich'in Band of not having current mailing addresses for some members - could reach a quorum based on the members for which it had addresses.

Not having up-to-date addresses, which are supposed to be provided to First Nations by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, prevents a band from informing all members of an election or referendum.

Drew noted the Gwichya Gwich'in Band has current mailing addresses for 223 of its 368 members eligible to vote.

"That means the magic number becomes 45," he said of the votes now required to reach the 20 per cent quorum.

The ratification effort for the proposed election code needs to attract just three more voters.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that we'll get three or more votes," said Drew.

Tsiigehtchic is a charter community, and a municipal election for two members of council will be held on June 15.

Members of the Gwichya Gwich'in Band voting in that community election will also be given the opportunity to vote electronically in the election code referendum.

"Hopefully, by the end of June 15, there will be enough votes from members to meet the quorum threshold and then the code will basically be ratified," said Drew.

Until that happens, the band doesn't have any approved set of election laws.

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