Squamish Nation council officially supports historic changes to governance 

Referendum results now acknowledge the new election rules will be in place for 2021

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO/DAVID BUZZARD - Council members are sworn in in April at Squamish's Totem Hall. Next time around, the election and the number of councillors voted in, will be very different.
  • FILE PHOTO/DAVID BUZZARD
  • Council members are sworn in in April at Squamish's Totem Hall. Next time around, the election and the number of councillors voted in, will be very different.

It is official. Squamish Nation council has voted to support proposed sweeping and historic changes to how it governs.

The majority of Nation leadership voted Tuesday to endorse referendum results on the changes that were announced on Dec. 6.

"They acknowledge the decision of the eligible voters and declare the law validly enacted," said Brittany John of the Squamish Nation electoral commission on Tuesday afternoon.

John declined to say what the exact vote count was but stressed the majority of the 16 councillors supported enacting the referendum results.

In the referendum, of 2,997 eligible voters, 774 ballots were cast.

John acknowledged the low voter turnout.

"There were definitely a lot of learning opportunities and things we need to look at in the future," said John. "How do we engage our membership? How do we get them interested in these sorts of topics?"

Regardless of the turnout, the majority supported all of the proposed changes to Nation governance.

Possibly the most dramatic change proposed involves changing the very makeup of the council.

In answer to the question, “Do you want the size of council to be 16 councillors or eight councillors?” the result was 56 per cent in favour of an eight-person council — 430 voted in favour of eight; 335 voted in favour of a 16-member council.

To the question, “Do you approve the new election rules?”

459 voted yes, while 293 voted no — a 59 per cent approval.

On the question, “Do you want to elect the band manager?” 69 per cent voted in favour, with 532 voting yes and 231 voting no.

To the question, “Do you want to elect the chair of council?” 546 voted yes and 212 voted no, meaning a 71 per cent approval of this change.

Voters also supported a partial ward system — 478 yes votes to 284 no. This will mean one councillor representing the Squamish Valley, one for the North Shore and one elected by members living away from these communities.

Prior to this review of Nation governance, which took two years to come up with these proposed changes, its 1981 rules were in place. These old rules were barebones. Basically, anyone who was a member of the Squamish band and of voting age could run and sit on council.

Under the new rules, a council candidate would be 18 years or older and:

*not in bankruptcy proceedings,

*not mentally or physically incapable,

*not convicted of theft, fraud or bribery, sexual assault or convicted of other indictable or impaired driving offences in the previous 10 years.

One bone of contention among some members going into Tuesday's council vote was whether or not the sweeping changes supported by the referendum would be enacted retroactively or in time for the next Nation election in 2021.

Council decided to have the changes apply next time around, thus not immediately impacting the current council.

"Our current leadership was voted in democratically by our members, so we should respect that process as well," said John.

Clarissa Antone, who is a voting member of the Nation's election commission, has been a vocal advocate for having the new governance rules apply retroactively, meaning the council would be immediately reduced and the new rules would apply to remaining members. But reached Tuesday after the vote, she said, while she will keep fighting for changes, she was happy the new rules passed.

"I am going to push for things, like criminal record checks," said Antone. "I am going to push things forward a bit by myself.... [but] I was so happy. I was doing the happy dance... It was very, very good."

John said she felt relief that after the years it took Squamish Nation electoral commission to draft the laws, they have finally been passed.

"I am relieved, definitely for sure and happy that we are able to pass something that will help determine our leadership, but also giving our membership, especially off reserve, a chance for their voices to be heard," she said.

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