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2013 09 20

Dirty politics in a tiny hamlet

          "Faust is unique." Minister of Municipal Affairs Ray Speaker said. "Always has been; always will be."
          He made the comment to a delegation from Faust at the Edmonton Legislature in 1991, during which he committed to the establishment of a special Faust District to be governed by a council elected from the local residents.
          I served for ten years as the only locally elected representative of the hamlet district to any government, and it seemed we (my community and I) had finally won a long battle, but two months later the Minister resigned to run in the first federal election contested by the Reform Party.
          I resigned some time before the Municipal District (in which Faust found itself) was incorporated on January 1, 1995 ~ after 90 years as an unincorporated region since the birth of the Province.
          This story is yet to be told (for posterity's, and the record's, sake).
          But I will, and I am.


          Where to begin. . . .

          In 1986 I wrote the following:
          "During its height, in the forties, Faust may have had a population of well over 1000. [See below for population survey results of various dates.] It was such a busy place that the local general store was open seven days each week and twenty-four hours per day. Three hotels were located here, and at least four stores.
          "Nearly every quarter-section of land around the hamlet had a family living on it. Though in 1930 a grain elevator was built at Kinuso for flourishing farms in the Swan River delta, agriculture did not establish itself as a major economic factor in the immediate area. Today, there are only three agricultural operations among local Faust area enterprises. The hamlet remains a bush-commnunity in outlook and temperament.
          "It is difficult to estimate the proportion over the years of Native and immigrant populations in the community, but in the decades following first settlement the dominant social group in the governing of local affairs was non-Native. Relatively recent democratic exercises have demonstrated the dynamic community power and political strength of the local Native population. The old governing class has not always agreed with the direction in which Faust is driven by the will of the local people. This schism ~ which in reality may not be as wide once the common interest is considered, is an underlying constraint to future development."

          I have watched and studied the complicated politics of governance, race, and economic and cultural interests, in this community and the region since I arrived in Faust in 1966 with the [Company of Young Canadians], without participating until I was asked in the early eighties to stand for the only elected local office in Faust: membership to the Alberta Minister's Advisory Committee for Improvement District 17.
          I was somewhat flattered, I suppose, did no campaigning, but was elected by the effort of a group of people eager for improvement and development who considered me honest, capable, and who ~ as they themselves did ~ loved this community for its natural beauty, and for the remarkable tolerance among its residents that came from the hamlet's unique history.
          I had much to learn but am a quick study, and soon found that few representatives from other localities took the position as seriously as I. As a consequence I found that the homework I was committed to placed me always at advantage during official meetings, which caused me to be disliked by some of my colleagues ~ appreciated by others ("Al Burger'll stand up for anybody"), and became respected and feared by bureaucrats. I was, however, always well placed to gain advantage for my community, and am proud of my service record.
          One of my first actions was to contact Ray Speaker, who as a cabinet minister in the 'Socred' government and chairman of the Human Resources Development Authority had entertained several community delegations, met with residents in Faust, and had been instrumental and helpful with the [Faust Cooperative]'s launch of a government-supported project in the forested area south of the hamlet. I outlined to him the community's intention to work with the residents to organize itself. I wrote that after some years we would present the Alberta government with a proposal for local governance.
          I came from 'outside' ~ of the province, of the nation. As a European, I have had since arriving in northern Alberta a different perspective and special appreciation of the historical time in which I found the region and the nation. It was New France and the Province of Quebec until The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the territory into Upper and Lower Canada, which were rejoined as the Province of Canada in 1841, and emerged after the 1867 British North America Act as 'one Dominion under the name of Canada.' Since that time it had expanded from sea to sea to sea, and the vast region, later to become Alberta, north from the U.S. border and west to the Rocky Mountains was but part of a provisional district of the North-West Territories.
          The region had a population in 1901 of 73 000. After thirty years of European settler migrations, it had increased tenfold to over 730 000. (The populations of Quebec and Ontario in 1931 were respectively 2.9 and 3.4 million.)
          Alberta became a Province in 1905. The south was Blackfoot country and now extensively settled by agrarian settlers; the North was the domain of the Cree and largely unsettled til very recent. There were towns, villages, Indian reserves, and Metis Colonies ~ but most of the region had no municipal government of any kind, and remained under a provincial ministry. I recognized an historical juncture, that perhaps would allow this little community of different peoples to carve out a unique form of local governance in this vast unincorporated wilderness area.
          We live small in Faust. Our district West of the Driftpile River East to the Green Zone agricultural lands of the Swan Valley, from the lake South to House and Deer Mountains and beyond where our Residents have walked.
          With only four-hundred inhabitants, we had several unique groupings ~ each with differing rights under the Constitution of Canada, each organized as a registered society: Metis Association Local ~ of the Provincial organization; Faust Community League ~ open resident membership; Indian Band Members of Faust Society ~ off-reserve Status Indians; Bill C-31 Indians of Faust Society ~ Indians recently reinstated to the Registry by special legislation; Big Point Band ~ a family group whose great-grandfather came after the Riel Rebellion to settle the north-shore of the Lake across from the hamlet; Faust Mooneow Association ~ Cree for White Skin ~ as I am.
          The Constitution does not afford as great a right ~ absolute as to land, nor special status, to any not named therein. The Mooneows supported Native Rights. It cannot be stressed more that the 'Indian Question' needs to be concluded ~ honorably and with pride, for the Nation; already a population has been allowed to lapse into ignorance as no school teaches its birth. My conclusion: Ask the Nations to organize politically in the federal arena and relinquish the fiction of the Band as Nation ~ and the wish list. Grant all that is requested. On to the future.
          The Faust local government model included every family grouping, and aboriginal claims could benefit all. Our efforts would allow all residents a connection to Native Rights and bring everone nearer expanded rights and freedoms. For me, personally, membership in the Faust Mooneow Association was the vehicle.
          The Alberta Department of Municipal Affairs is a bureaucracy with branches incompatible ~ some assisted, some vehemently opposed ~ some supported by the Deputy Minister, some by other forces. In the vast Improvement Districts a move was afoot to incorporation (into Municipal Districts). Lesser Slave Lake Area reaches south into high assessed machinery, equipment, and pipelines; to the west farms carved out of the forest in living memory, and to the east, a considerable distance farther, a like agricultural area, which ~ as they say ~ 'don't have a pot to piss in' between them. Therefor, the fiscal conclusion of the bureaucracy was to split the lake area east-west down the middle to gain the assessments for agricultural municipal districts to be dominated electorally by farm interests.
          Directed by the ministry's branch, the local Improvement District administration interfered in hamlet affairs by holding meetings (of residents with ID Committee Chair and other members, as well as the ID manager and other staff) in the community without informing the locally elected municipal officer (myself). Every two years a Faust election with a very high turnout returned me to the Committee. At the last, official interference split voters down the middle. The good side won ~ but it severely harmed the harmony and unity of the community. Other branches of the department were at the same time actively assisting.
          In October 1991 a Faust delegation composed of representatives of all the above described organizations plus those of a Business Association, met at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton with Minister Speaker who was extremely supportive. "We don't want another study," he said, "we just want to do." He then asked me directly for my opinion on what structure would be suitable. I was not aware at that time how pressed for time we would turn out to be, nor that this opportunity was destined to be very shortlived. As well, I had made a commitment to a number of people that I would not allow a local governance structure be formed without extensively consulting all resident groups. Thus, my answer to Minister Speaker's question was: "I don't know."
          Early November '91 an official from the Ministry attended a session of the ID Advisory Committee in High Prairie and (while the other representatives sat still as timid mice) asked me whether the local governance structure that was desired in Faust could be achieved within the Improvement District structure. I answered that based on my years of experience as a local representative, I did not have any confidence in that possibility. A few hours later, this official told me in private: "you are going to get what you want."
          In December of the same year, various media reported the attendance by Minister Speaker at a recently established Reform Party conference in Edmonton where it decided to contest the next federal election. Speaker was asked in front of television cameras how he thought this party might fare in Alberta, to which he replied that he believed it might sweep all the national parliamentary seats for the Province. This prediction was picked up by national media and widely reported. The following day Canada's Prime Minister Mulroney was as widely reported to have pooh-poohed what he characterized as the poorly informed and irrelevant opinion of a small-time politician in the hinterlands far from the seats of power in Ottawa.
          While Christmas drew near in the year of 1991, I watched developments with growing trepidation, and briefly considered rushing to Edmonton to ask that the Minister sign an order to name the Faust subdivision a Special Ministerial District. I did not ~ because of the season, perhaps, also I was not privy to insider's information.
          Raymond Speaker resigned on January 3, 1992, and in 1993 won a seat in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament for the Reform Party of Canada. Speaker's prediction had been substantially correct. (Mulroney's governing Progressive Conservative Party was reduced to its worst result in history: two seats! ~ and within a decade disappeared as the Reform Party morphed into a new Conservative Party of Canada.)
          With a new Minister named, the bureaucracy was soon able to make my position untenable and I resigned not long after. To this day, it has been very difficult for me, personally, to have won and then lose in such a short time the ambition for a Faust district with its own locally elected council in a unique form of local governance for our mixed-culture communty.
          If there is a lesson to be learned from this, I have not yet discovered it.

*

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     The [Faust Regional Economic Development Corporation] carried out a survey that counted 119 households with only eight not responding and estimated by the surveyers. This resulted in an almost exact count in all categories and a very low margin of error due to the intimate knowledge of the community by the survey team.
     In the chart at right. all population figures except 1986 are from other survey and census sources.
     It is interesting to note that 59% of residents identified themselves as 'Native'. This number included persons with Indian Satus and membership in an area Band, others who had rejected their previous Treaty status for various reasons and left the reserve. [A case in point about his own circumstance is related by [Patrick Lalonde], interviewed at Faust in 1972 ~ then aged 83.] Still others were reinstated by recent legislation and were known as Bill C-31 Indians. Most who identified as Natives called themselves Metis (of mixed blood) ~ this French-based term is almost everywhere pronounced as 'may-tee', but in Faust was invariably 'mee-tis'.

1967 (CYC) below; 1986 (FRCDC) right

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          * Raymond Albert Speaker (b. 1935 in Enchant AB) entered politics in 1963 when he was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Social Credit Party of Alberta. He served as minister without portfolio in 1967, Minister of Health and Social Development and Minister of Personnel in 1968, and Chairman of the Human Resources Development Authority from 1969.
          He remained a Social Credit MLA after the party lost power in the 1971 election. After 1984 he sat as an Independent MLA, and helped found the Representative Party of Alberta, then joined the ruling Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. He was named to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 1989.
          Raymond Speaker resigned on January 3, 1992, and in 1993 won a seat in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament for the Reform Party of Canada. He retired from politics in 1997.

Reform Party leader Preston Manning speaks in the House of Commons;
flanking him on the front bench: Speaker and future prime minister Steve Harper
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an in depth history of [Faust] and Lesser Slave Lake

for a good exposition of how the community organized locally, see the presentation to the
[Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples] by the Indian Band Members of Faust Society

the community's claims on various parcels in and around the hamlet are described in [Faust Lands]