Intimidation, Irregularities Cloud Pinehouse Election (September 2012)

STORY posted on SEPTEMBER 18, 2012 by SANDRACUFFE

Northern Saskatchewan residents report infractions, climate of fear in municipal election process


PINEHOUSE, SK – Something is rotten in the State of Denmark, according to people in the northern village of Pinehouse, Saskatchewan. Residents contacted provincial officials to report irregularities and acts of intimidation at last week’s advance poll in an effort to ensure a free and fair municipal election tomorrow.

Longtime Pinehouse resident John Smerek sent a letter to provincial government officials reporting irregularities in the advance poll held September 12. In the letter sent yesterday via email to Minister of Government Relations Jim Reiter and carbon copied to several other provincial authorities, Smerek highlighted process infractions such as the failure to abide by new voter ID requirements and acts of intimidation.

“I would like to see the people here have a free and democratic opportunity to vote without the fear or intimidation or false promises offered to them by the individuals that are sent out or hired by our leaders to intimidate the democratic process,” Smerek told the Media Co-op in an interview in Pinehouse.

One of the individuals in question is Vince Natomagan, who acts as a community liaison to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). He has an office in the village office building and works closely with the Pinehouse council.

Along with two other locations in northern Saskatchewan and more than a dozen in Ontario, Pinehouse is currently part of NWMO’s search for a “willing host community” for Canada’s high-level radioactive waste. In 2010, Mayor Mike Natomagan sent NWMO an Expression of Interest, initiating the community’s inclusion in the site selection process for a deep geological repository for the used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored onsite at nuclear reactors in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Five hundred kilometres north of Saskatoon, the northern village of Pinehouse is a predominantly Cree-speaking Metis community of approximately 1,000 people near the boundary between the Canadian Shield and Boreal Plain regions. It used to be the end of the road. Trucks now travel another 220 kilometres past the turnoff to the community up to the Key Lake uranium mill. Operated by Saskatoon-based uranium mining giant Cameco, the mill processes ore from the McArthur River uranium mine 80 kilometres further north. Open pit uranium mining at Key Lake itself ended in 2002.

Today, tensions in Pinehouse run high with the municipal election only a day away. Some residents are concerned that despite secret ballots, there may be negative consequences if they cast a ballot and the council believes they have voted for other candidates, whether or not they have, said Smerek.

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