Reforms coming for First Nations band elections

Protestors are seen gathering during a rally around Parliament Hill Jan 11, 2013 in Ottawa. Certain Chiefs met with the Prime Minister today in Ottawa to talk about Idle no More and other issues.



OTTAWA - As splits appeared between First Nations leaders gathered in Ottawa to meet - or not - with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday, legislation is winding through Parliament to reform band elections.

Following a push by First Nations in Atlantic Canada and Manitoba, Ottawa tabled legislation a year ago to bring stability and accountability to the roughly 125 band elections held annually.

A number of those elections have been fraught with problems, including fraud.

Krista Brookes, senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Policy Congress, called the current system "antiquated" and badly in need of modernization.

"There's nothing in the Indian Act that prevents any fraudulent activities," she said, noting, for example, the buying and selling of mail-in ballots is not illegal under the current system.

Brookes said that 90% of aboriginals across Canada she surveyed called for stricter penalties.

"People were shocked to hear that there weren't any," she said. Bands can choose to opt-in to the proposed legislation.

Terms will also be doubled, from two years to four. Roughly 40% of all band elections are appealed. While most appeals are tossed out, the process can take up to 18 months, effectively immobilizing councils for the bulk of the term.

B.C's Osoyoos Indian Band is considering developing its own electoral rules, following in the footsteps of many First Nations, said Chief Clarence Louie.

Parts of the current legislation is "way out to lunch" and can create "Jerry Springer-type elections," he said.

"Elections should be serious events, and not just taken up by political games."

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