In an abundance of caution, the ‘Namgis First Nation band council has decided to postpone elections for five council seats set to expire this December. The councillors’ terms will be extended until next December when it is hoped that a normal election can be held, without the impact of the pandemic.
Chief Councillor Don Svanvik and the four councillors whose terms do not expire this December, met with the electoral officer, band lawyer and senior administrator Oct. 5 to discuss options, ultimately deciding it was safer to push the voting schedule for the five seats forward by one year. Postponement to prevent the spread of disease is specifically addressed in the First Nations Election Act.
What the act doesn’t provide for is mail-in ballots for members with access to a polling station – it’s only allowed for people voting from afar, so ‘Namgis members would have to vote in person.
The community is still trying to maintain physical distancing and small social groups to prevent the spread of COVID-19 since the small island had an outbreak of at least 30 cases this summer. One elder passed away from the disease.
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Vancouver Island North region has had 31 confirmed cases since January 2020. That means from Sayward to Port Hardy and the remote communities on the mainland south of Bella Coola, Alert Bay has taken the brunt of the pandemic.
“It hopped over a lot of places to get to us,” Svanvik said. Alert Bay is on a small island near Port McNeill.
Nominations for council requires gathering signatures, a level of contact the band isn’t willing to recommend during the pandemic. As for any electronic option for voting, council wrote in a memo to members that the costs are prohibitive, and that the deadline to appoint a new electoral officer who could oversee an electronic election has already passed.
Svanvik is keeping a close eye on virus numbers, urging people to keep up with the guidelines. It’s easy to get complacent, he said, “But people that have contracted COVID really thought they were okay with what they were doing, too.”
Chief and council’s current three-year cycle is to elect the chief in May and five councillors in December of year one,no elections in year two, and elect four councillors in December of year three. By pushing the five-councillor election one year, there will now be an election every year.
Svanvik is in his second term as chief councillor which lasts until May 2023. Terms for councillors Ernest Alfred, Vickie Brotchie, Stan Hunt and Kelly Speck expire in the fall of 2022.
Dixon Taylor, Victor Isaac, John Macko and Robert Mountain have had their terms extended by one year to Dec. 2021.
Councillor Jerry Alfred passed away this year; his seat will remain vacant until December 2021.
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