Métis elections: McCallum takes presidency, McLennan wins P.A. region

Sherry McClennan with supporters at her election night party in Prince Albert. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Sherry McLennan’s supporters sat at campaign headquarters, scanning their phones and lighting up cigarettes in the commandeered strip-mall office. Still no results. Every minute or so, they hit the refresh button on the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan election website.

They’d consumed large quantities pizza, cola and coffee, but a family-size bowl of potato salad lay mostly uneaten. A long night lay ahead.

At about 9:20 p.m., Bonnie Vandale arrived. McLennan’s unofficial campaign manager, she’d spent the past two hours at the Parkland Hall polling station, scrutinizing ballots cast for McLennan and her second cousin, Darlene Doris McKay. The two competitors had once been close, but the contest made them bitter enemies. “It’s been pretty dirty,” McLennan later said, reflecting on months of disappearing campaign signs, social media insults and family choosing sides.

“You lost by five votes,” Vandale said.

Spirits sank, audibly, across the room. But Vandale couldn’t keep it in for long. “Just kidding,” she told the crowd. McLennan had opened a wide lead – 91 votes – in the most important poll of Western Region 2.

McLennan’s young daughter grabbed her arm and gasped. Everyone posed for pictures. St. Louis, Christopher Lake and several rural polling stations hadn’t yet phoned in, but victory seemed certain.

Tammy Mah-Fiddler, a candidate for secretary, sat crunching the numbers. She jotted down notes on a calendar, a cigarette in hand, and realized what everyone else had forgotten: early voting.

More than 360 votes were unaccounted for, enough to turn the result.

“It’s a roller coaster ride: up down, up down,” said McLennan. “You don’t know what to think.”

It was nearly midnight before conclusive, if still unofficial, results began to pour in. McLennan: 624, McKay: 515.

The moment was bittersweet. Mah-Fiddler lost her bid for secretary. Darren Deschambeault, another PA candidate campaigning out of that same strip-mall headquarters, placed second in the race to be vice-president.

McLennan said she felt a heavy weight at that moment. She realized what lay before her. The next few years will have unusually high stakes for Saskatchewan’s Métis people. The new Provincial Métis Council will have to rebuild an organization wracked by years of factionalism, and seize on federal promises of new agreements on long-claimed rights.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “I’ve got a big tall order.”

McLennan will join a council full of new faces, but with two veterans at the helm. Gerald Morin, the incumbent Vice President, was reelected. Glen McCallum, a former area director, will take over as president.

Morin said McCallum is the right man for the job.

“He’s been at the PMC table for the last four and a half years, so he knows the issues intimately,” he said. “I think he’s got all of the right personal traits to lead us in the right way. He believes very strongly in collaboration and working together.”

Now is an exciting time to be on council, the vice president said. Métis people have made “very significant gains” in recent years, with the Supreme Court forcing Ottawa to accept that they lie within federal jurisdiction. That could place them on an equal footing with other aboriginal people.

As president, McCallum will represent the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan in national talks, joining other Métis leaders to push for federal funding on education and health care. He’ll also lead the charge for an agreement on land rights and self-government for Saskatchewan’s Métis.

He said the path seems clear.

“The Trudeau government is wiling to work with us – the door is open,” McCallum said. “As far as land claims, the statement I’ve heard from the federal government is lets negotiate, not litigate.”

For more on this story, see the May 30 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.