George Morgan is the new chief of the Liard First Nation, ending one chapter in the long, fraught and often contentious leadership debate for this Kaska nation.
Morgan defeated incumbent Chief Daniel Morris by a margin of 203 votes to 102. Don Magun recieievd 80 votes, while Dorothy Hayes took six.
“It’s a relief,” said Morgan. “I’m glad that this is over.”
“The immediate plan is for chief and council to convene,” he said. “We have some financial and administrative details to sort out.”
The vote comes after a six-month delay amid allegations of financial mismanagement and questionable electoral and leadership practices by Morris. The First Nation has been under third-party management since 2014 by Vancouver-based Ganhada Management Group.
“This is a victory for our democracy. This was really about defending our democracy,” said Morgan. “We have to sit down as a community and look at our election law to make sure this never happens again.”
Morris could not be reached for comment by press time.
Morris was elected as chief in 2013. Morgan ran against Morris in that race, and lost by a slim margin.
Former chief Liard McMillan, whom Morris replaced, and whose decade-long run as chief was also marred by complaints about mismanagement and corruption, issued a statement supporting the new chief and council.
“I didn’t want to say too much with an election underway, but now that it is over I want to publicly express my congratulations to the new government and to express my hope that the nation can now begin to heal and move forward together,” McMillan said in his statement.
Morris’s official term as chief expired Dec. 14, 2016, without an election being called. The election was originally scheduled for Dec. 15 but never took place. A group of LFN citizens took the First Nation to court over the delay.
That prompted Morris to hold a community meeting in early February to appoint an election committee. The meeting descended into a shouting match but the committee was successfully created.
The vote was rescheduled for April 10, but was delayed again after chief returning officer Lois Moorcroft, a former NDP MLA and cabinet minister, abruptly resigned amid claims of legal threats against her.
“She (Moorcroft) said somebody was saying something to her,” election co-chair Emma Donnessy told the News at the time. “She resigned because she thought it would be best for everyone if we did it in a fair and open transparent manner. Some of the people didn’t like the way things were run.”
Questions about the state of the First Nation’s finances have hung over Morris’s term as chief. Morgan couldn’t say why he thought Morris worked so hard to cling to his position even after his official term was over.
“I have no idea the machinations of his mind … there’s been no financial transparency for three and a half years — maybe that’s the reason,” he said. “We are currently suffering a financial crisis here and we have millions and millions of dollars that have not been reported on.”
This week’s results mean all of the First Nation’s elected officials are new. Fred Lutz won the race for deputy chief. Alfred Chief, Dawn McDonald, Kathy Magun and Travis Stewart were elected as Yukon councillors. Malcolm Groat and Harlan Schilling were elected as councillors in Lower Post, B.C.
Hayes, a candidate for chief, said there were attempts at electoral fraud during this week’s vote, including intimidation. She also said someone tried to make off with a ballot box in Watson Lake. Morgan said that didn’t happen, although rumours were circulating in the community.
Morgan said he felt there was “lateral violence” and social division within the community as a result of the election.
“It’s hard to get people to speak out about it, I will agree with that,” he said. “If your family doesn’t support a candidate and you do … there’s all kinds of lateral violence.”
“This (election was) all about fairness, transparency and leadership accountability,” Morgan said.
With files from Pierre Chauvin
Contact Lori Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org