Robert Weistche rode a tidal wave of support into his new job as chief of Waskaganish on a platform of change.
With a record turnout nearly three times the usual number, Weistche cruised into the position with 294 votes, or 49 percent.
Weistche got more votes than the entire turnout in elections past. Returning officer Susan Moses had to make a few trips to the photocopier when she ran out of ballots.
“We never expected that many voters,” she said the day following the August 12 election, after a busy night of counting ballots and two hours of sleep. “We’ve never had that many. Normally, we have just over 200.”
In all, 597 people turned out in the election, or 66 percent of the 906 eligible voters. In past community elections, turnout has usually hovered around 25 percent.
Weistche was still trying to figure it all out when we reached him during his second day on the job. “When I found out about it, I was quite taken aback. It kind of hit me like a wave,” he said. “It’s quite far-out, the feeling I have” (see full interview, page 23).
Weistche said he will stay on in his current job as chairman of the Cree School Board for a few months to make sure there is a smooth transition to his successor there.
He said he stood for change in how the band is run. “I really feel that the millenium has been a long thousand years. People are tired and they are feeling maybe it’s time for a change,” he said.
One of his first priorities is reviewing the band’s books, which an outside auditor slammed as being in a mess last year. “I want the band to undergo an extensive financial review. We need to know where the money is coming from and where it’s going – and who is benefiting,” said Weistche who was elected to a four-year term.
He promised to report back to the community inside 12 months. He also expressed concern about the band’s debt, which he said is over $7 million. “We’re going to need to seriously make a political commitment to changes in the financial management, accountability and practices of the band.”
Billy Diamond, the former chief, didn’t run again. “I’ve been chief for 11 years. That was too long. It gets to be very stressful,” he said. Diamond said he has “no comment” on Weistche’s plans to overhaul the band’s management. Diamond was nominated to run for Grand Chief in the August 31 election, but he declined.
Weistche also promised to try to ease the community’s housing crisis and said Crees have been kept in the dark on Hydro-Quebec’s proposed partnership to build a new $2-billion-plus hydro project.
Jack Diamond came in second in the election with 33 percent of the vote (199), followed by Ian Diamond with 11 percent (64 votes) and Jimmy Trapper’s 6 percent (33 votes). Seven ballots were spoiled.
Elected to the new council are: Bert Blackned, William T. Hester, Paul Moses, Gretta Whiskeychan Cheechoo and Samson Weistche. Also elected: John Paul Murdoch (Cree Regional Authority rep), Bert Blackned (Cree Health Board rep) and Kathy Black (Board of Compensation rep).