While the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) elections were expected to be called almost two months ago, the Council has officially confirmed that the elections have been postponed to July 31.
MCK grand chief Serge Otsi Simon explained that extenuating circumstances, including the pandemic and his personal health, have led to the Council's decision, which was made on Wednesday.
However, he expressed that the primary cause for the postponement is due to a need to interpret the electoral code, which includes procedural methods that conflict with the current health directives instated by the local Emergency Response Unit.
“There were several questions about interpretations of the election code which have all been answered now,” said Simon. “The electoral officer was just doing her due diligence to make sure that she fully understood the process that she was going to be working with.”
According to the custom electoral code ratified in 2015, this year’s elections should have taken place on the first weekend of June – four years following the last general election.
This being said, under article 8.3 of the code, it states that in “exceptional circumstances,” Council may hold a special public meeting, in order to authorize the continuing of mandates for a period of up to six additional months.
“The article about holding a public meeting was really our biggest issue,” expressed Simon. “Our health authority had already said no indoor or outdoor gatherings, no matter the reason.”
While the grand chief is insistent on the delay being in the best interest of the overall community, Kanehsata’kehró:non Teiawenniserate Tomlinson is convinced that the situation could have been handled differently.
“There have been elections all over Canada, in the United States and now even Kahnawake has called theirs,” pointed out Tomlinson. “I don’t believe there’s any way to reasonably justify that decision.”
For the community member, this mid-week announcement was, in more ways than one, the last drop to spill in an already overflowing glass.
“There was an information dump and a race for announcements in a time where they should have instead been calling the election,” said Tomlinson. “There was an important failure here on the part of Council because they completely disregarded the rules of the electoral code that their own administration enacted.”
Although his frustration is undoubtedly shared with other community members, some interpreted this announcement as a step toward a new chapter.
“At least now the elections are called and we know where we are going as community members and as a community,” said a Kanehsata’kehró:non who asked to remain anonymous. “With the way it was going, I was afraid that they were going to postpone elections for six months.”
While there have been instances in the past where elections have been deferred for upwards of a year, Simon reiterated that aside from the delay, all the conditions prescribed under the code will be respected.
“Fact of the matter is that this delay is highly inconvenient,” he expressed. “It is delaying everything from all the ongoing talks with governments, the MRC (Municipalité régionale de comté), land claims and education. All of these issues are basically put on hold longer.”
Along with the confirmation of the deferral of the election, was the announcement of Annie Neashish being named the chief electoral officer. Neashish said her role in establishing the date was straightforward, as it was all done in accordance with the electoral code.
“It was very simple to do since the dates of the election were all determined with the goal of respecting the code, while also factoring in the delays,” she explained, adding that she accepted the position on May 5.
With the nomination period taking place June 16-18, a final list of candidates will be shared with community members on June 29. Afterward, a public meeting is to be held on July 8, ahead of the deadline for postal ballots on the 16th and polling closing on the last day of that month.
Now that community members have a concise timeline for the upcoming election phases, Tomlinson expressed that it is time for Kanehsata’kehró:non to focus on the work ahead.
“There needs to be strong accountability mechanisms enacted from the grassroots up, rather than from the top down,” he said. “In the end, I hope that our community will be able to have an opportunity to move forward toward a more inclusive and engaged form of governance.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door