The incoming, young chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation has moved quickly to douse speculation that his upset election over long-time incumbent Kim Baird could jeopardize the TFN’s bold, multimillion-dollar development plans.
In a statement Thursday, Bryce Williams, a 23-year-old carver, said he is committed to all of the planned projects, including subdivisions for up to 4,000 residents, and two large shopping malls on land that was previously in the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve.
“We will continue to build on the important development work the previous government started,” said Mr. Williams, who thwarted Ms. Baird’s bid for a seventh term with a narrow 78-69 victory.
“There is still much to do.”
But no one seemed to have a clear answer why members of the TFN turned their backs on Ms. Baird, who had shepherded the band through complex, protracted negotiations to sign B.C.’s first urban treaty in 2009.
With that under her belt and the subsequent launching of a series of ambitious economic developments, Ms. Baird had emerged as one of the province’s most dynamic and prominent native leaders, serving on numerous outside boards and showered with awards.
After a quiet campaign with no major issue, she had expected another three-year term. Instead, as she marked her 42nd birthday Thursday, Ms. Baird was trying to comprehend what happened.
She thought that perhaps TFN members wanted a chief focused more on the community rather than someone dealing with the many non-native bodies needed to implement its plans. “That was sheer necessity,” Ms. Baird said. “I was relied on to do all the heavy lifting. But I think the community may have wanted a more domestic sort of focus.”
Elder Ruth Adams, a strong supporter of Ms. Baird, said the community is in shock over the end of her 13-year tenure as chief.
Ms. Adams wondered whether the TFN’s many young voters were impatient over the time it was taking to realize economic benefits from the treaty. “They were waiting for the money to come in. They don’t realize you have to see things through.”
News of Ms. Baird’s defeat was greeted with dismay by Judith Sayers, who experienced a similar fate in her native community. Ms. Sayers had served 14 years as the high-profile chief of the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island, when she was unexpectedly defeated in 2009 with numerous developments in the balance. Since then, almost all of them have floundered, she said.
“I really worry about what’s going to happen there now, with someone young and inexperienced entrusted with these enormous projects.”
Ms. Sayers theorized that Ms. Baird could have fallen victim to local unhappiness with her celebrated reputation outside the community, a factor she believes contributed to her own downfall.
“You’re in the paper too much. You’re getting too many awards. You’re away too much, and they don’t like it, no matter how much you’ve accomplished and the wonderful things you’ve done,” Ms. Sayers said. “Kim was an amazing leader, but there are things the community sometimes doesn’t like.”
Ms. Baird accepted her loss graciously.
“He’s a nice young man,” she said of her opponent, bursting into laughter when it was suggested news stories be headlined “Bryce, the Giant-Killer.”
“He cares deeply for the community, and for sure, he has lots of leadership potential. But obviously I am disappointed. I had hoped to get a little bit more done.”
Ms. Baird pledged to make the transition to her successor as smooth as possible. “I have a lot of knowledge in my head, and if he wants my help, I will be available. We just have to sort it out.”
As for her own future, Ms. Baird, who remains chief until Sept. 16, said she has already received a serious job offer, but admitted: “I'm a little bit adrift, right now. It‘s going to be hard to find something nearly as interesting as what I’ve been doing.”