The federal government has reintroduced its First Nations Elections Act, now known as Bill C-9.
Previously known as Bill S-6, that bill died on the order paper when Parliament recently prorogued.
Let’s hope Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), does not continue his apparent opposition to this important piece of legislation.
In fact, now is the time for all Manitoba bands to support this long overdue overhaul for bands that need one and desire one (as this bill is voluntary, which it should be).
The bill’s advantages far outweigh any potential drawbacks. This optional legislation extends chief and council terms from two years to four, cleans up the nomination process, and outlines clear electoral offences and penalties. The bill also raises the possibility of common election days among several First Nations. Another major advantage to First Nations would be the exclusion of the minister of aboriginal affairs from the appeals process. Courts would be involved in settling disputes. Some may see that as a drawback, but perhaps in the future the government could create independent First Nation bodies of appeal instead.
Under certain circumstances, the minister may bring a First Nation under this new election regime by a special order. Some may view that as a drawback, but how often would the minister do this?
First Nations in Manitoba that operate under the electoral provisions of the Indian Act would be particularly interested in this important bill. According to Aboriginal Affairs data from 2010, almost 40 bands in Manitoba still operate under the Indian Act’s electoral provisions.
So, this bill would be of interest to many Manitoba First Nations, particularly those in those communities that have experienced or are continuing to experience electoral turmoil.
Indeed, the bill incorporates many of the recommendations made in the past by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, as well as the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs. Granted it includes additional measures that did not necessarily originate from these bodies, but it does include important input from First Nations. Ron Evans, the former grand chief of the AMC seemed supportive of the bill. It would be shame for Nepinak to go down opposing a bill that the AMC originally helped to develop.
Just extending terms from two to four would allow First Nations communities to better plan strategically over the long term. Many First Nations politicians have complained over the years that this two-year term system prevents them from engaging in long term planning because they are perpetually in election mode.
So, this legislation would advance long-term economic development for many bands. That alone would be an important reason to support this legislation.
Every year, we conduct an annual Aboriginal Governance Index, which is a survey that measures perceptions of governance and services on Prairie First Nations. One area we always measure is elections. We always ask average First Nations what kind of confidence they have in their electoral system. Happily, we can report continual improvements in this significant area.
However, one item we have learned is that high-performing bands tend to hold fair elections.
Hopefully, Manitoba bands and the AMC realize that and support this voluntary legislation.