Some citizens of the Liard First Nation are concerned regularly scheduled elections for chief and council might not take place after a deadline to appoint an election committee came and went.
George Morgan told the News Tuesday that Chief Daniel Morris can still call a special community meeting until mid-August in order to appoint the election committee.
Morgan is the spokesperson of the group Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government.
The group first formed when Morris signed a resource agreement with the Yukon government in January, claiming it hadn’t been consulted.
Once the mid-August deadline passes, it’s anybody’s guess when or how an election would take place. The News made multiple attempts to reach Morris for comment, but his voicemail was full.
The election committee is in charge of hiring election officers. It also handles appeals regarding the results.
“We fear that the current chief is not the type of guy who is going to like having a fair process,” Morgan said.
Morgan is also the former executive director of the First Nation.
In January 2014, a month after being elected, Morris laid off the entire staff of the First Nation, citing financial constraints.
Morgan stayed on for five months before resigning.
“It became apparent to me that good governance was going to be non-existent,” he said. “He had been boycotting the chief and council meetings.”
Morgan ran against Morris in the 2013 election and lost by 22 votes.
An election is supposed to take place this coming December.
But looking at how the First Nation has been run in the past two years, there is no guarantee that will happen.
In September 2014, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) put the First Nation under third-party management.
At the time, the department said third-party management was a last resort measure to ensure the delivery of core services to LFN citizens.
As of late 2014, the First Nation owed INAC over $400,000.
Vancouver-based Ganhada Management Group has since been in charge of delivering core services, from pension plans to social assistance.
Morgan claims the Canada Revenue Agency seized the band’s bank account earlier this month because of unpaid taxes totalling $1 million.
The CRA didn’t confirm by press time if that’s the case.
In 2014 former LFN chief Liard McMillan told the News that the First Nation ended up with about $2 million in debt after Morris refused to pay income tax during his first term, arguing the First Nation was tax-exempt.
If Morris doesn’t call the special meeting, Morgan said the group would look into getting a court order or organizing the meeting themselves.
“It is theoretically feasible that community members could call a community meeting on their own,” he said.
“Those strategies haven’t been thought about too seriously yet.”
Morgan said Ganhada has the money the federal government allocated for the election.
“We’re hoping the chief and council will have the special community meeting and we will be on track,” he said. “But we’re not confident.”
Morgan said that because LFN is considered a “custom band” under the Indian Act, INAC won’t intervene if the election derails.
An INAC spokesperson said the department has no role in the election.
“The department’s role is limited to ensuring that programs and services funded by the department continue to be delivered to community members,” spokesperson Shawn Jackson told the News.
“Economically, things are very depressed,” Morgan said about the community.
The soup kitchen is in high demand, he added.
“The amount of Liard First Nation citizens who are on social assistance has risen 25 per cent since the current chief and council took office,” he said.
Regular chief and council meetings don’t take place, and there hasn’t been a general assembly since Morris got elected, he said.
“We’re probably at five per cent capacity in terms of government (activity).”
While Morris heavily criticized Ganhada when he filed his lawsuit in May alleging the company had breached its duty to the First Nation, Morgan praised the firm for delivering the services in a difficult situation.
The News previously reported Liard citizens claimed it took more than seven months for the firm to be allowed in the First Nation’s band office.
“Frankly they’re doing a pretty good job,” Morgan said. “We’re glad to have them here.”
But he said frustration is mounting in the community about the how the First Nation is run.
“What’s happened here in terms of governance, it’s really just shocking.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org