Métis vote Saturday in ‘historic’ election

Western Region 2 candidate Shelley Fraser out campaigning with supporters by the Northern Lights Casino on Friday. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Saskatchewan’s Métis go to the polls Saturday to elect their provincial council.

Candidates say they’re pleased with the turnout so far in the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan elections – the first in five years. Precisely 1,775 voters cast their ballots in advance of election day. During the early voting period, from March 12 to 19, Prince Albert’s returning office led the field.

“Prince Albert saw the highest number of votes in its office, out of the whole province,” said Gwen LaFond, the assistant chief electoral officer. “They had the strongest voter turnout.”

In advance polls on May 20, Regina and La Loche processed the most ballots.

In Western Region 2, which includes Prince Albert, candidates are preparing for the big day. Incumbent Darlene Doris McKay said her team has an aggressive get-out-the-vote plan.

“We definitely will have rides,” she said. “We’ll have people on the phones. I’ll have scrutineers… we’ll just be busy all day long.”

She said she’s been trying to focus on her record of service to the community.

“I’m pleased with the way I’m doing my campaigning,” she said. “I’m not going out there swinging at anyone.”

McKay said she’s heard the same concerns over and over again from voters: the need to build up the Métis registry, and to increase support for health care and education.

“One of the biggest concerns in education is university,” she said. “First Nations get theirs paid for, but as Métis we need to pay for our own.”

One of her challengers, Sherry McLennan, spent Friday hosting a barbecue at her office – offering burgers to potential supporters and bouncy castles to their kids.

“We’ve been on the phones and campaigning so hard,” she said. “It’s a relaxing day to meet with the people and have a laugh before it gets down to the voting.”

The region’s other contender, Debden’s Shelley Fraser, was out campaigning by the Northern Lights Casino on Friday. She said she’s passed out about 1,000 flyers during her travels, which have taken her to every High School in Prince Albert. Any Métis person of age 16 or older can vote in the election.

“I’ve talked to a few students, and they were quite surprised that they’re able to vote,” she said. “Their vote matters. This is certainly going to be a factor in their future.”

Her brother, Steve Fraser, is running for president. He said a lot of Métis people have been disillusioned over years of infighting on council. A dispute between two factions brought the group’s operations to a standstill and prompted the federal government to suspend funding. He views Saturday as the beginning of a chance to rebuild.

“We’ve lost a lot of our members… They’ve lost hope because of the past corruption,” he said. “That’s why we need a change.”

Fraser said change is what he’s offering. It’s in his life story. He said he lived for years on the streets of Prince Albert, but turned his life around and got several degrees. His work with the Métis Nation of Alberta, he stressed, has prepared him to lobby other levels of government.

“I have an enormous amount of resources and skill,” he said. “I’m for the people, and I know I can get them what they need. I’m not afraid to go out and knock on Brad Wall’s door or the doors of the federal government.”

He said that the early polling numbers are a good sign that people are getting engaged.

“That’s encouraging,” he said. “I will tell you that tomorrow is going to be super crazy. It will be historic. You will see the highest turnout ever.”

LaFond said her fellow electoral officers are ready to face that turnout.

“Everyone has been hired. We are well prepared for tomorrow,” she said on Friday. “We’re trying to make sure that we can handle the amount of voters coming in.”

She said voters should bring a piece of identification with their photo, name and address, or two pieces of ID – one with their name, and another with their name and address. Anyone who self-declares as Métis can vote, even if they don’t have a Métis card. Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The candidates are looking to make the most of one final day of campaigning. McLennan will join vice-presidential candidate Darren Deschambeault and secretary candidate Tammy Mah-Fiddler for a pizza party as the results come in. Shelley Fraser said she’ll set up across the street from Prince Albert’s polling station: Parkland Community Hall, at the corner of 15 Street West and 9 Avenue West. Her brother Steve will stick around Saskatoon.

Karen LaRocque, one of his competitors for president, said she’ll spend election night at home with her family. She wants to thank all her competitors for running a good campaign.

“I just want to congratulate all the candidates that have come out to run in this election,” she said. “And I want to wish them the best of luck tomorrow.”