When electors go to the polls they need to trust in the election process, and they need to trust the people they elect will act in the best interests of the electorate as a whole. Electors need elected officials to behave in a transparent and accountable fashion.
Alexander First Nation band members have reason to question trust in their elected officials following events in recent weeks.
Last week the results of a July election held at Alexander First Nation were overturned. Electoral appeal board chairperson Geraldine Hill ordered the band to call a new nomination day and election meeting. The move came after a complaint that the band didn’t follow its own rules about needing unanimous consent by band council and chief to call an early election.
The board also heard that there were inconsistencies in how the band decided who was allowed to vote in the election. The electoral appeal board called on council to update its election code to address any ambiguities and to use consistent standards of residency when determining eligibility to vote.
Nominations for one chief and six band councillors will now be held at Alexander Community Hall on Sept. 18 said Alexander chief electoral officer Marvin Yellow Horn. The new election date is Oct. 2.
Current chief and councillors have not responded to Gazette requests for comment, so we are not able to include their responses.
The election decision comes on the heels of a federal financial review made public last month that said that 15 Alexander First Nation band council members or employees received a total of $5.3 million from 2010 to 2016 in unsupported payments, which are defined as payments without proper documentation or receipts.
A letter from the audit and evaluation sector of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada cited the band for “general and widespread lack of supporting documentation and evidence of approval.” The review also noted payments in some cases that were authorized by the same person who received the money.
At the band’s request a third party has been brought in to co-manage the band’s finances.
Before the federal Conservatives brought in the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in 2013, few bands made their spending public. In 2015 Alexander First Nation was one of the bands that was found in non-compliance with federal legislation.The Trudeau government had initially said it would repeal the act if elected, but it has since undertaken a review. This legislation provides financial transparency for band members and taxpayers and should remain in force. The current situation in Alexander shows the need for such transparency.
In the absence of any comment to the public, band members and taxpayers are left to question whether money intended for band programs has been spent appropriately. Elected officials are expected to account for band and taxpayers’ money and to do so with transparency.
Trust is a core value of democracy. Financial transparency is critical for band members and taxpayers to know they are getting value for dollars.
The Alexander First Nation band council needs to restore confidence in its election processes and its financial management. The band council needs to account for all the money that it spends. Where the band falls short, the federal government needs to hold the band council accountable.