A tense election race has ended in Mount Currie, with incumbent Chief Leonard Andrew coming out on top.
Andrew, 64, has been elected to his eighth term as Chief of the Mount Currie Band of the Lil'wat First Nation with almost double the votes of his closest challenger, former chief negotiator Lyle Leo. Andrew took 332 votes to Leo's 169.
The results have come at the tail end of a tight race in which Leo has faced a lawsuit from the very band he wants to lead. Just six days into the election, Mount Currie's previous chief and council filed a suit against him alleging that he took over half a million dollars in improper payments from proponents of a commercial property development in the Lower Soo Valley.
The initial statement of claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 4, alleged that Leo took $95,000 in "bribes" from the Delta Lands Corporation, which was pushing the Soo Valley development.
That was later revised to "secret payments" of $550,335 paid through CRB Logging Co. Ltd., a forestry management company that's a co-defendant in the suit.
Andrew said in a Monday interview that the lawsuit certainly had an impact on the election results, but it wasn't the only factor in the outcome.
"I think it impacted it," he said. "But I think the biggest part of it really is, well, I guess if I don't get back in, then the people don't believe in what we're doing.
"I think the amount of people that came out does indicate that they must have belief in it, having 630 people come out to our elections is quite a bit."
Andrew also said that the lawsuit is "coincidental" and that it wasn't initiated for political gain. It was, he said, a decision made by council after investigating the payments for "quite a while."
"I've never, ever campaigned by smearing anyone," he said. "Even before I started to say that I was going to run again, and (Leo's) name did crop up even before the nominations, we had to decide as to whether to go forward with the lawsuit or not, and we said yes, we must do it, we must let our people know what's happening."
Now relieved that the election is finished, Andrew said there's a lot of business for the Mount Currie council to attend to. Top of the list is changing the governance system.
The Mount Currie council governs band matters according to a model set down in the federal Indian Act. Among other things, it dictates that a single chief and 12 councillors at most comprise a band government. Andrew feels it's outmoded.
"Having one chief just isn't enough anymore," he said. "I'm away from the community a lot. ...I'm hoping once a change does happen then the chief will have more time in the community. Hopefully we'll have a two-chief system whereby one is a community chief and the other one does go out, whether it's politically or business-wise."
Leo, meanwhile, said he's happy about the turnout for the election. Six-hundred-twenty-five votes were cast for chief and the same number was cast for council seats. He too feels the lawsuit had an impact on the outcome.
"There (were) solid votes in my corner," he said. "Things had a different political flavour and without the allegations I believe it would have been a lot stronger. A lot of people were really disillusioned by the overall, what the allegations are about."
Leo will be meeting with his lawyer this week in order to finalize a statement of defence, which has yet to be filed in B.C. Supreme Court.
The top vote-getter among councillors was Bruce Edmonds, who has served on the past two Mount Currie councils. He got 318 votes. Other returning councillors include Lois Joseph, Maxine Joseph, Martina Pierre, Morgan Wells and Patricia Williams.
New councillors include Vaughn Gabriel, Joanne John (who has served on a previous council), Felicite (Flee) Nelson, Tara Smith, Rosemary Stager and Christopher Wells, who has twice run for chief including this election.