Election Serge Simon to challenge Ghislain Picard in AFNQL election

Election Serge Simon to challenge Ghislain Picard in AFNQL election


Picard has been the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador since 1992.

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election La Presse Canadienne

election AFNQL challenger Serge Otsi Simon, left, and incumbent Ghislain Picard, right.
AFNQL challenger Serge Otsi Simon, left, and incumbent Ghislain Picard, right. Photo by John Kenney and Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette files

Former Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon is challenging incumbent Ghislain Picard in the election for regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador on Jan. 25.

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The candidates were announced Monday by election chair Claude Riverin. The role has a three-year mandate.

Picard, from the Innu community of Pessamit in the Côte-Nord region, has been the regional chief since 1992 and is seeking an 11th mandate.

Simon led the Kanesatake reserve northwest of Montreal for 10 years, until he was defeated in an election in July.

The Assembly of Chiefs, leaders of 43 First Nations communities, will take part in the vote and know the two candidates well.

Picard: Health is most pressing issue

For Picard, the most pressing issue is health, as COVID-19 sweeps across Quebec. “What worries me a lot these days is how we get out of this pandemic for all our communities, but particularly on the mental health front, which is already lacking support from governments,” he said in a telephone interview.

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He also expressed concerns about the consequences of Quebec’s policy of délestage, postponing non-urgent surgeries and medical interventions to deal with COVID-19.

Over the longer term, Picard said he wants to put the issue of “access to territory and resources” on the table, after it was “evidently an issue that seems to have disappeared from the political debate.”

He said the communities the AFNQL represents “should have the possibility of creating their own economies, maintaining them and encouraging them.”

He also called for the elimination of “racism that is always prevalent.”

Simon: “A different approach”

Simon, meanwhile, is banking on his experience as a grand chief, he explained in a telephone interview. “I understand very well what the chiefs at the table go through daily,” he said, describing his decade in Kanesatake as “difficult.”

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In 2020, his family received death threats over COVID-19 restrictions and his attempts to regulate the cannabis industry on the territory.

Simon said besides the key issues of education, the economy and safety, the assembly “should have a foot in the international arena” and could forge relationships with First Nations in the United States, Central America and South America, “since we have things in common to promote.”

He pointed to his involvement in the creation of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, signed by 150 nations in Canada and the United States, as an example of international cooperation that can help achieve common goals.

On the regional level, he said “there are still good relations between First Nations and governments or municipalities” but said “sometimes, it takes a voice with a bit more force where it’s needed.”

Simon stressed that he has “respected and even admired Ghislain (Picard) for the last 10 years” and his candidacy is not an opposition to the incumbent but rather a different proposal. “I think it’s good for democracy to have a bit of competition and see if there’s a desire for a different direction, a different approach.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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