Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Alliance in turmoil

Accusations fly before Saturday election

Darren Stewart
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 30/03) - Infighting in the North Slave Metis Alliance escalated this week in the final days before the organization will choose a new president and board.

At stake is a $90,000-a-year job and control of a $17-million organization.

Supporters of candidate Clem Paul turned the tables on Monday, suggesting that rival candidate Bob Turner misused Alliance funding. They allege that Turner, who dropped out of the race for president the day after last week's general meeting, owes over $26,000 to the Alliance. They provided invoices for building supplies signed by Turner and delivered to his home.

They said the invoices were presented at the closed-door meeting last Thursday that was held to discuss a recent audit carried out by McKay Financial Services.

Turner refused to let members of the media sit in on the meeting, saying the board had already decided it would be members only.

Figures in the audit suggested Paul had used $20,000 for personal expenses. Paul, who was suspended as president last December, has repeatedly said that all his expenses were legitimate and approved by the board.

Turner denies that he misused any Alliance funds and said that wasn't the reason he dropped out of the election.

"All of that information is unsubstantiated accusation," he said. "All of that can be explained."

Turner said all his expenses are legitimate and that he dropped out to avoid the in-fighting that he called a distraction from the original mandate of the Alliance.

"We didn't want to get into a mudslinging contest our main objective is to bring the Metis together in unity and not continue a family feud."

Auditor John Laratta said he couldn't comment on the audit without breaching confidentiality agreements.

Membership conflict

Paul's supporters also suggested that the Alliance membership committee is in conflict of interest. They say the committee signed up a handful of North Douglas supporters at the last minute in an effort to thwart Paul's attempt to be re-elected.

Marie Douglas, North Douglas' sister, is on the committee that decides who can become a member and who can vote in Alliance elections. She is also running in the election for a board position.

Marie Douglas refused to comment on the matter.

Turner said all the recent members were signed up using the appropriate process.

"We have a membership committee and we have a process for signing up new members," he said.

Returning officer Sue Heron-Herbert said she's added about 12 new names to the voter list in the past two weeks.

Heron-Herbert said according to alliance bylaws, anyone who is a descendant of an aboriginal person who resided in the North Slave region before Aug. 21, 1921 is eligible to participate in the election, as long as the board approves them.

Vote on Saturday

Heron-Herbert said just under half of the 178 eligible voters cast their ballot in advance polls last weekend.

Going into election day, Paul, who was acclaimed in two previous Alliance elections, said he didn't bring the organization to where it is today by being a bad manager.

"Do you think I sit back with my feet on the desk, smoking a cigar?" he asked. "You don't go from nothing to $17 million in five years like that."

Paul also said people should check his 16-year record as president of the Yellowknife Metis council.

"I've been in public office for 16 years without a problem," he said.

Former Alliance board member Fred Lemouel said members should be wary of electing Paul because he's faced bankruptcy in the past.

"When I was on the board we were fooled into thinking we could be insured against lawsuits and we found out later we weren't insured," he said. "The only reason we weren't insured is because Clem went through that bankruptcy. That kind of scared me."

Paul dismissed the bankruptcy charge as a last-minute attempt to discredit him.

"If that was the problem why did the board wait this long to bring it up."

Paul said he declared bankruptcy after injuring himself at work and trying to support his family for two years on Workers' Compensation cheques.

"They're trying to bring me down and in the process they've ruined the credibility of what was once a very credible organization," Paul said.

Frank Lafferty is also seeking the presidency. Yellowknifer attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.

History of troubles

1996 -- The North Slave Metis Alliance receives legal standing as a grassroots organization to foster business and employment among Metis people in the North Slave region. The alliance represents Metis in Yellowknife, Rae-Edzo, Wha Ti, Gameti (Rae Lakes), Wekweti (Snare Lake), Dettah and Ndilo. About 1,000 Metis, most in Yellowknife and Rae-Edzo, are eligible to be members.

July 1998 -- Alliance signs impact and benefits agreement with BHP Diamonds Inc. President Clem Paul said it was "the first step toward insuring that aboriginal rights to land are protected and respected."

October 1998 -- Founding NSMA members Sholto Douglas and Bill Enge take the organization to court for wrongful dismissal, saying president Clem Paul is blocking a NSMA bylaw which calls for the presidency to be rotated every two years between Yellowknife and Rae. The suit dragged on for years and is still not resolved.

May 1999 -- The annual general assembly saw the NSMA constitution changed, even though members of Metis locals 66 and 64 had launched a lawsuit challenging the cancellation of 60 memberships. The change included dropping a clause that stated the president and vice-president must be elected every two years and that elections must alternate every two years between the two communities. The original constitution also stated that three directors must be from Rae-Edzo. One of those challenging changes to the constitution was North Douglas.

March 2000 -- NSMA signs an impact benefit agreement with Diavik Diamond Mines.

August 2000 -- NSMA continues work on restoring Old Fort Rae, a traditional Metis community.

December 2001 -- NSMA meets Dogrib First Nation in Federal Court to block the Dogrib land claim until Metis rights are recognized.

June 2002 -- Bill Enge calls publically for Clem Paul to step down, saying the NSMA is on the brink of disaster. The same month a Federal Court judge ruled the Dogrib land claim could proceed despite alliance objections.

December 2002 -- The NSMA board suspends Clem Paul for financial irregularities just two months before a scheduled election. Paul denies the charge and brings the board to court for wrongful dismissal. The election, which the board says has to be rescheduled, is left in limbo. Vice-president Bob Turner takes over and orders an audit of Alliance finances and says the election has to wait until the audit is completed.

February 2003 -- A judge rules that the NSMA election must be held within six weeks. It is scheduled for May 3.

March 2003 -- The NWT Supreme Court rules that a class action suit against the NSMA can go ahead without the alliance's lawyer questioning the 42 plaintiffs in the suit. Bill Enge and 87 others say the alliance wrongfully revoked their memberships in 1999.

March 2003 -- The audit is completed and suggests that Clem Paul spent $20,000 of NSMA money for personal expenses. Paul says all spending was approved by the board and calls the audit a "campaign of hate" orchestrated as a power grab by Turner.

April 24, 2003 -- The NSMA holds a closed door general meeting to discuss the audit.

April 25, 2003 -- Bob Turner withdraws from the race for president, saying North Douglas is better fit to lead. Clem Paul's supporters say Turner owes the Alliance $26,000 and is guilty of mismanaging funds.

April 28, 2003 -- Women, who wish to remain anonymous, say North Douglas is unfit to lead because of recent assault convictions. Clem Paul says Turner's supporters started a campaign to tear his own credibility down, but in effect have destroyed the credibility of the NSMA.