By Mervin Brass

AFN Ghislain Picard

Acting AFN Chief Ghislain Picard.

When it comes to politics Ghislain Picard knows a day is an eternity and anything can happen.

Picard is one of three candidates running for the Office of the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the other two include FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde and Leon Jourdain, an Anishnabek from Lac La Croix.

Picard believes he has his work cut out if he wants to win the election and be the AFN Chief.

“I’ve been reading and hearing that Perry Bellegarde is probably the front runner at this point and with me tagging along,” says acting AFN Chief Picard. “As they say in politics, a day is an eternity so we have a few days left before Winnipeg and that could all change.”

“No, I wouldn’t say I’m the front runner, I think we’re all good candidates,” says Bellegarde. “I acknowledge Leon Jourdain and Ghislain Picard for letting their names stand. We’ll leave it up to the Chiefs and proxies to decide next Wednesday.”

Don’t take anything for granted just keep working hard, says Bellegarde.

Meanwhile, Leon Jourdain considers himself the people’s candidate.

He remains confident about his chances of winning.

He entered the race just prior to the campaign deadline in early November. He says the late entry has made his campaign challenging.
“I would like to say that I’m ahead of the pack but so do the other candidates,” says Jourdain. “I need to get my message out there. I haven’t been out there campaigning for six years like Bellegarde has, I’ve only been campaigning for a month and a half. “

AFN perry bellegarde

Candidate in the AFN Chief election, Perry Bellegarde.

“It’s open for anybody to put their name forward,” says Bellegarde, responding to Jourdain’s comment. “You just have to put your name forward and focus on issues and get things done at a local, regional, national and international level. I think we all bring that experience to the table.”

Last spring former AFN Chief Shawn Atleo resigned shortly after most First Nations Chiefs rejected the First Nations Education Act.
In July, Picard was named the AFN acting Chief.

He announced his campaign for national Chief in September.

Picard believes he has unanimous support from the Quebec region, which has 43 Chiefs, and pockets of support across the country.

“What I’ve seen through my travels is a lot of interest in terms of my approach and how I view things, how I see things,” says Picard. “But no definite commitment from Chiefs except for a few that really came up to me and said ‘I’ll be on your side.’”

Most political pundits believe British Columbia and its large voting delegation will play a key role in determining who will be the next AFN Chief.

“I can tell you maybe 75 per cent but maybe its going to end up with 25, it’s hard to say,” says Picard about his chances of getting votes from BC. “I can only tell you maybe the three, four, five or six Chiefs who said ‘I will go with you,’ but it’s hard to say at this point in time.”

In the 2009 election, Atleo picked up most, if not all, of the votes from British Columbia in a close race against Bellegarde.
This time around Bellegarde will use the experience from that election if things go beyond the first ballot.

“Whenever you run a national campaign you assess afterwards what works, what doesn’t work and how do you make it better next time. I think it’s basically just talking to as many Chiefs and proxies in the room and not leaving the room after the first ballot,” says Bellegarde.

“Remember six years ago we went eight ballots. So our team would move to our caucus room and strategize and plan but a lot of people said, ‘you should have just stayed in the room,’ and talked to the people and met them one-on-one, right in the big room.”

According to AFN election rules a winning candidate must receive 60 per cent of the vote to win the election.

There are 639 First Nation communities that are recognized AFN members with each community having one vote – usually the community’s Chief casts the ballot.

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