By the end of day July 28, the new Haisla Nation Council was known following their regular election.
In all 379 voted were cast for the position of councillors, of which 10 seats were up for grabs.
The position of chief councillor went to Ellis Ross by acclamation as he had no opponents. He first earned the position in the 2011 election, and was a councillor since 2003.
Taking a seat with him at the council table will be Henry Amos, Taylor Cross, Brenda Duncan, Godfrey Grant, Margaret Grant, Willard Grant, Lucille Harms, Joanne Ross, Russell Ross and Crystal Smith.
A recount was conducted for Willard Grant and Alexander Grant Sr., due to the extremely close margin of Willard’s win, as set out in the Haisla’s election code. Willar snuck the win by a margin of three votes over Alexander.
The conclusion of this election means some interesting changes and initiatives, both from the new chief councillor and from the election process itself.
From Ellis Ross’ perspective, he aims to change up how portfolios are handled, the goal being to free up council’s time from matters that don’t much impact their own business.
“In light of all the projects we’re part of now…I think we’ve got enough momentum there, but I strongly believe that it’s our structure that actually holds us back now,” explained Ross. “We’re so used to dealing with Indian Act programming and we’re so used to being dictated by what funding agreements with Ottawa tell us to do and tell us what not to do. I think we got to break out of of that and I think we got to leave our administration to deal with Indian Act programming and our council deals with all of these other issues.”
In a letter written to the Haisla Nation following his acclamation, he talked of the current portfolio system, which he wrote is not set up to let the council look or deal with matters outside of health or fisheries, for example.
He told the Sentinel that as an example with the Health portfolio, they receive a certain amount of money from the federal government to implement health services, and with that they hire a manager, who works under the chief operations officer of the Haisla, and the health centre is managed under that system.
It doesn’t make sense to put members of the council into that mix, he said, which is what happens now.
“If you don’t agree with it they’ll [Ottawa] just cut your funding. So why put councillors down there to do a job that the chief operating officer is already doing, the manager is already doing, the staff members are already doing. And at the end of the day you can’t improve on it really,” said Ross. “I want to leave staff to do staff to do the jobs they’ve been hired to do.”
He wants new portfolios created for councillors to cover issues such as language, land management and government-to-government portfolio, as well as a communication portfolio to get information transmitted effectively from and to the Haisla membership.
In his letter he also noted a problem with council has been not enough separation between the administration and the elected council.
“It’s a stereotype to say ‘I’m going to get a job now and an opportunity because my brother’s on council’,” said Ross, but added, “I’m not sure that stereotype isn’t too far off from the mark. I’ve seen where councillors advocate for family members or themselves…I just want to put in a system that no matter who’s in council, you’re always achieving something for your membership.”
And empowering the councillors to achieve more is another facet to his new platform. He said he knows first hand from his town as a Haisla councillor that councillors aren’t given their due respect in the system.
“What I’ve never liked about our chief and council is the fact that regular councils, council members don’t get the respect or authority a chief councillor does. No one really wants to talk to a councillor, they don’t really have any authority. Everybody wants to talk to the chief councillor,” he said.
He said that with the right directives councillors can be given more authority to achieve something out of the proposed new portfolios, and the “buck can stop with them” before recommendations make it to the council table.
In the end he wants council to be more efficient and work more spread out.
Meanwhile, the elections themselves will take on a new shape. Instead of elections every two years as set out in the Indian Act, the Haisla will embark on a custom election schedule.
Basically, the chief councillor and the top five elected councillors will earn a four year term, while the bottom five councillors based on vote count will earn a two year term.
The elections then will be staggered, so five councillors always remain on council during elections, as a means of creating continuity.
“At any given time no matter what the election process is you always have five councillors on council, instead of just throwing everybody out at election time,” explained Ross.
He said getting this new system in place was the result of seven years of hard work from the Haisla Nation.