Qalipu First Nation members vote in record numbers, re-electing Brendan Mitchell as chief

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Brendan Mitchell was re-elected as chief of the Qalipu First Nation for a third term Friday.  (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
Brendan Mitchell was re-elected as chief of the Qalipu First Nation for a third term Friday. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Brendan Mitchell has been re-elected for another three-year term as chief of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band in a record election.

"I am very pleased to be serving now my third term as chief of Qalipu First Nation," Mitchell said Saturday.

"We've been doing a lot of great work."

According to a Qalipu press release Friday night, the election had the highest voter turnout to date, with 8,384 members of the band having cast their ballot.

That's up significantly from the last council election in 2018, when about 28 per cent of band members cast their ballots, according to electoral officer Carol Lahey.

During the week-long election period, the First Nation said just over 20,000 members were eligible to vote.

New voting process a success

For the first time, the election was held exclusively by phone and online.

"Before, we had mail-out ballots and a lot of times they were sent out, but people didn't get them in time and didn't get them back to us in time for their vote to count. So, this helped a lot of electors," said Lahey.

Band manager Keith Goulding agrees that the voter turnout of about 40 per cent is likely linked to the new voting process.

"It was a significant change in the number of voters," said Goulding.

"We had a number of people that were on the mainland or in rural communities that couldn't get to polling stations readily. They could now access polling stations through the electronic polls."

The shift to a remote voting system was determined in a referendum during the band's last council election to aid in the voting process for members in remote areas.

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Lahey said she has only heard positive feedback from voters so far.

"They think it was great. It was a lot easier for them to vote and I have to say, [the voting company] Intelivote had an excellent system running," she said.

Goulding said several factors play a role in trying to achieve an even higher voter turnout in future band elections, the biggest being the accuracy of the voters' list.

"When [the federal government tells] us we get a new member, they don't give us any personal information about them. So, I have no way of contacting them. So, we rely on the membership to reach out to us," said Goulding.

"The next three years, we're going to make sure we work on that to make sure that we have up to date information on all of our members."

Mitchell's agenda for next 3 years

Mitchell, who has been Qalipu chief since 2015, said resuming talks with the federal government about the enrolment controversy are the main focus for his upcoming term.

"This week we're expecting to hear a new cabinet being formed by the prime minister. We may end up with a new minister of Indigenous Services Canada," said Mitchell.

"That person will be contacted immediately for a meeting in an attempt to get Canada back to the table," said Mitchell.

Apart from the enrolment issue, Mitchell said promoting culture and language, fishing rights and a housing program are also on his agenda.

Eight councillors elected

Mitchell won the vote for chief with 3,177 votes, about 38 per cent of the total number of votes cast. First runner-up Peggy White received 2,326 votes, or about 28 per cent.

Other candidates for chief were Odelle Pike and Geoff Sparkes.

The eight ward councillors elected are:

  • Jasen Benwah, Port au Port

  • Sharren Dean, Corner Brook (by acclamation)

  • Calvin Francis, Gander Bay (by acclamation)

  • Terri Greene, Benoit's Cove

  • Francis Skeard, Glenwood (by acclamation)

  • Robert White, Flat Bay

  • Ivan White, St. George's

  • Hayward Young, Stephenville

No candidates were nominated for the ward of Exploits which will see a by-election at a later date.

Andrew Barker has been acclaimed as vice-chief for the central region and Jennifer Brake will be vice-chief for the western region.

This year's election also included a referendum on a shift to a four-year term for the council, instead of the present three-year term, which was passed with a clear majority of 5,794 members — or 69 per cent of votes — opting for the change.

The change will come into effect during the next council election in 2024, and then see a new council in office until 2028.

Mitchell, the vice-chiefs and the councillors will be sworn on Nov. 26, after a 30-day appeal period.

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