Sahtu election defended
Officials say no rules have been broken

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 24/97) - Officials running the election for a new head of the Sahtu Secretariat are denying that there have been irregularities in the campaign.

But questions continue to be raised by candidates for the post who are questioning the candidacy of an employee of the Sahtu Secretariat, which oversees the region's land claim as well as education and health services.

Last week, several eligible voters who live outside the Sahtu complained that their mail-in ballots for the Nov. 28 election contained a one-page flyer from candidate Ruby McDonald outlining her qualifications for the position, but nothing from the other two candidates.

McDonald won the previous election in October, but it is being held again because of irregularities, including an unsealed box of ballots temporarily forgotten in the Deline RCMP detachment.

Gordon Lennie, the returning officer for the election, says all candidates were invited to send in a one-page brief on themselves, and only McDonald did.

"She was the only one who took up the offer," he said last week.

But he said as a result of complaints from the other candidates, John T'Seleie and Cindy Gilday, the secretariat may pick up the cost of a special mail-out from the other two candidates.

Neither of the other two candidates has said whether they will accept the offer, he said.

"They may or may not," he said. "It will be up to them."

The decision to include partisan material in the mail-out ballot was made because of the shortness of the campaign and the difficulty reaching voters who live outside the Sahtu, he said.

But the page of election rules given to each candidate does not mention that the profiles would be mailed out with the ballots.

McDonald, who printed up 400 copies of the flyer at her own expense, said she broke no rules.

"When we got instructions about the rules of the election, they said candidates could submit a one-page profile, and I was the only one that took advantage of it," she said.

Questions have also been raised about the McDonald's candidacy, as she works for the secretariat as regional implementation co-ordinator.

In a letter to News/North, T'Seleie wrote that a prohibition on secretariat employees using the organization's time or supplies to campaign is unenforceable. They organization is self-policing, trusting employees to turn themselves in for breaking the rules.

McDonald, however, said she does not take calls about election issues at the secretariat office or while on the organization's business. She spoke to a reporter from her home after office hours.

"The rules say I'm not to campaign out of the (secretariat's) office and I'm not allowed to use their phones or faxes for campaign propaganda," she said.

"If anyone calls to talk about the election, I tell them to I'm not allowed to talk about it there and to call me at home. There haven't been any difficulties with that."

Lennie agrees that it is up to the individual to follow the rules but he said there have been no complaints.

The eventual result of the election may be affected by one other factor -- the ongoing national postal strike.

If the strike lasts much longer, then the results of the vote will be postponed for a time after the strike ends so that mail-in ballots have a chance to get to the secretariat's office in Deline in time to be counted.

The rules of the game

The following are excerpts from the rules governing the election of new chairperson for the Sahtu Secretariat.

The single page of rules was drafted by the seven-member board of directors of the secretariat, and besides setting out timetables for nominations, eligibility of voters and duties of scrutineers, it establishes rules governing the conduct of the elections, which have been the focus of controversy in recent weeks.

Those rules are:

The position of chairperson is a full-time paid position working from the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated main office located in Deline.
Nominated candidates may submit a one-page personal profile including response or stance to issues of concern.
Employees of the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated who are nominated and actively seeking office as chairperson of the organization may continue employment and travel duties with the organization and shall:
(1) give notice of leave when conducting an active campaign in person in Sahtu communities outside Deline;

(2) be allowed to campaign in Deline before and after normal business hours;

and shall not:
(1) use SSI office premises and communication equipment (phone, faxes) and supplies for campaign purposes;

(2) actively campaign for office of chairperson in the course of travel duties to Sahtu regional communities (and) other NWT communities and provinces.