Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation urban councillor position filled after lengthy battle

Clarisse Lecoq, a band administrator with 34 years of service, has been elected to the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation urban riding. 

Lecoq won the Aug. 15  byelection for council with 400 ballots, 105 more than incumbent Warren McCallum. The urban seat consists of La Ronge, Cumberland House, Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

Lecoq had alleged improprieties in the general election more than a year ago that saw McCallum best her by 26 votes. An appeal tribunal sided with her. The dispute then went to a federal court before a byelection could proceed.

"I want to tackle urban issues and urban life, just because I know where they come from, and I have empathy and respect for everybody," Lecoq said. 

Lecoq originally hails from Pelican Narrows, but was transferred to work in Prince Albert in 1998 and has been an urban band member ever since.

The Cree Nation's election act dictates that an appeal tribunal, comprised of three people, is to review any requests for appeals. 

Appeal tribunal decision leads to byelection

Upon hearing evidence from Lecoq and McCallum, the appeal tribunal found a byelection was needed for the urban councillor position, in a written decision published on June 7, 2018, according to court documents. 

Specifically, the tribunal's decision stated the Chief Electoral Officer failed to notify candidates and urban band members in Saskatoon of a polling station venue change in a timely or proper manner. 

However, the tribunal found none of the candidates guilty of any wrong-doing during the election.

Concerns were also raised about sample ballots that were provided at polling stations, which appeared to at least one witness to have an "X" marked next to McCallum's name. 

The tribunal's decision also found contradictory evidence was given to them around the number of times ballot boxes and polling stations were checked through election day.

Tribunal decision challenged in federal court

Despite the tribunal's decision, McCallum successfully filed an injunction on the grounds the appeal tribunal had breached procedural fairness and natural justice — effectively halting the byelection process until federal courts weighed in on the matter. McCallum was represented by Lavoie Stonechild Law Office.

Submitted by Clarisse Lecoq

In a court decision posted online on July 7, Judge Cecily Strickland found the appeal tribunal followed proper procedure and dismissed McCallum's application. 

Injunction halted byelection while it was underway

The injunction was filed after the byelection process had started— and that created some confusion at polling stations, according to Lecoq. 

She said people who cast their ballots in the advance polls in 2018 were not allowed to vote again on August 15. Some people were unaware their previous votes would still count toward the most recent byelection.

People who hadn't participated in the previous byelection advance polls were still allowed to cast their votes in the August 15 polls, according to Lecoq.

Short council term but ambitious goals

With roughly 18 months left in her term, Lecoq said she has numerous items she would like to address for people in the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

Youth suicide, housing, homelessness, social issues and the Cree Nation's election code were items she wanted to see addressed. 

I want to tackle urban issues and urban life. - Clarisse Lecoq

She said despite the short term, she's not too worried about addressing everything she wants to and she plans to hit the ground running to get things done.

The clarity of the election code in particular was addressed numerous times in the federal court decision. 

"The appeal tribunal specifically found the code is vague and needs much work, especially the appeal tribunal section, in that it is inadequate and did not provide the appeal tribunal with a remedy for the situation before it," Strickand said. 

The band's election code has previously appeared before in court, with McCallum previously challenging the document in 2016. Lecoq said she wanted concerns about the election code addressed before the band's next general election in the spring of 2021.

She said she also wants to see an elder's home for senior urban residents built in Prince Albert. 

That's a project she said would create economic development opportunities for urban band members while providing elders in the Prince Albert with a sense of connection to their homes.

"They'd be so happy if they had an elders home [with elders] all from Peter Ballantyne, because they know each other and whatnot," Lecoq said.