Fond Du Lac chief seat declared vacant after voting dispute

A map showing Fond Du Lac's location in Northern Saskatchewan. Wikimedia Commons

The chief’s seat at Fond Du Lac Denesuline First Nation is now empty, after a tribunal threw out the results of last month’s election.

Louie Mercredi became chief after beating his first cousin, Kevin Mercredi, by only two votes. But he only kept the post for a matter of weeks. His challenger argued that three votes – just enough to make the difference – may have been improperly cast.

“I just felt that the margin was too close and this was a violation,” Kevin explained, after being contacted by the Daily Herald.

Kevin took the matter to an appeal tribunal, which convened last week at Al’s Place, a hotel in Stony Rapids. This Tuesday, it issued a ruling pointing to a “clear violation” of voting rules. The Herald secured that ruling, which declared the chief position vacant and ordered a by-election.

The apparent violation centred on three polling clerks who allegedly cast their ballots in contravention of band law. According to the Fond Du Lac Denesuline First Nation’s Election Act, electoral officials are barred from voting.

Kevin said that someone affiliated with his campaign heard about the impugned voting from one of the three clerks. He suspects they may be close to his cousin’s campaign, giving Louie just enough support to carry the day.

“I didn’t feel it was right,” he said. “I checked the Election Act, and I had to note one of them did mention that they did vote.”

But Louie Mercredi takes issue with the way the appeal tribunal reached its decision. He said he wasn’t properly informed until it was too late. He noted that the tribunal is supposed to hold a hearing, and claims he has no reason to believe one ever took place.

“I wasn’t given the possibility to stand up for myself,” he said. “There was no information relayed to me. I was given zero chance of defending myself.”

He admitted that the allegations against the polling clerks would be a “big concern,” but only if they were actually serving as electoral officers when they voted. He argued that they weren’t, since they cast their ballots before they assumed their clerk duties for the September 15 election.

“They voted on a Monday, at advance polls, and after they voted they were told to help out at the polls with the general election,” he said. “But they were members when they voted.”

The band’s council will be tasked with selecting a specific date for the by-election, which has not yet been scheduled. Kevin said he plans to run again. Louie said he’ll be back in the race if he has to, but he isn’t ready to accept the appeal tribunal’s decision. He said he’s considering challenging it, possibly before the courts.

The two cousins say they are still on decent terms. Louie said he expects things will remain that way. Kevin also seemed eager to keep things from getting personal.

“I guess we’re civil with each other,” Kevin added. “I’m doing everything within my legal rights, that’s the way I look at it.”