Perry Bellegarde was elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations on the second ballot Wednesday after the other candidates accused the federal government of interfering in the outcome.
Perry took 328 votes in the second ballot to take more than 60 per cent of the vote to win his second term.
But even before the results of the first ballot was announced, candidate Russ Diabo was sounding the alarm on Crown-Indigenous relations Minister Carolyn Bennett meeting with the Alberta caucus of chiefs and proxies early Wednesday.
Then after the first ballot was announced four candidates, excluding Bellegarde, took to the stage in the main assembly hall to complain about Bennett.
“It’s direct interference by a federal Crown minister in this political process,” said Diabo on the main stage moments after Bellegarde fall short of the votes needed on the first ballot.
“She shouldn’t have been anywhere in this building on election day.”
Bennett’s office released a statement earlier in the day saying the election never came up and she was invited by the Alberta caucus to address an “issue.”
Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras also defended inviting Bennett and said neither the election or any candidate was brought up.
“I understand the issue of the recognition act was brought up … and that’s definitely an election issue,” said Diabo referring to the Trudeau government’s Indigenous rights framework that is being developed.
Diabo wasn’t in the room at the time, but said members of his campaign were.
Candidate Miles Richardson said they couldn’t “condone the interference” of the federal government.
“That federal minister coming into our annual assembly and interfering with our vote by meeting with specific groups over this pipeline issue. They have been dividing our people since the beginning of this debate,” said Richardson in reference to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that has divided nations and led to mass arrests of people who oppose it.
The pipeline was approved by the Trudeau government and is to run next to the old pipeline from Edmonton. Atla, to Burnaby, B.C.
Bennett never entered the main hall or voting area but in a side room reserved for the Alberta caucus about an hour before polls opened.
APTN News was told at least two of the candidates were consulting with lawyers while the voting on the second ballot was happening. It wasn’t immediately clear what options were available to them.
“This is a disgusting display of interference,” said candidate Sheila North, who had the second most votes after the first ballot with 106.
“This is another example of how the Liberal party and Perry Bellegarde pat themselves on the back.”
Bellegarde also spoke to the issue immediately following the results of the first ballot.
He agreed it’s a concern that needed to be addressed but he was trying to get the votes he needed to win on the second ballot.
Both Diabo and North were critical of Bellegarde’s relationship with the Liberal government Tuesday in speeches to the chiefs and proxies.
Bellegarde defended his record and said the AFN helped influence federal budgets that have seen $17 billion in funding directed to Indigenous people since Justin Trudeau was elected in late 2015.
The AFN’s budget under Trudeau also nearly tripled from $13 million to $32 million in the last fiscal year ending March 2018.
In concession speeches, only Diabo maintained the election was “tainted” by Bennett. Both Richardson and North congratulated Bellegarde.