Chief Mike Sack: The face and voice of Mi’kmaq lobster fishing that is met with ire and violence

Chief Mike Sack: The face and voice of Mi’kmaq lobster fishing that is met with ire and violence

National Post


Chief Mike Sack is on his way to Digby. In his pickup, skirting along Highway 101, it is two and a half hours of picturesque driving from his band’s reserve in central Nova Scotia to communities on the province’s southwestern coast, where lobsters grow plump and delicious in St. Marys Bay.

It’s a road he’s been on a lot lately, while his band, the Sipekne’katik First Nation, is embroiled in a stormy dispute with non-Indigenous lobster fishers over its claim of aboriginal right to catch lobster out of season, while others must keep their traps dry.

It’s not a great time for him to be away from home.

Monday is election day, when the 1,400 adult voters, about half the Sipekne’katik band list, elect a chief to lead the province’s second-largest Mi’kmaq community for the next two years.

“I haven’t had a chance to campaign. I haven’t campaigned at all. I’ve just been down there fighting for this, right,” he says as he drives. “But this is a big thing for our community, so I’m putting a lot of my energy here.” There are two women running against him, this time.

“I guess that will be my report card.”

While he is well-known in his community, most in Canada only recently noticed Sack, through the news and, for a certain demographic, online memes, both heroic and horrific, sparked by alarming events as the lobster dispute turned violent.

After a lobster pound housing the band’s catch was attacked, a van torched, and the chief himself assaulted, Sack, a youthful-looking 39 years old, walked over to speak with reporters, wearing a sweatshirt with a fish and moose logo and the large number 1752, the year of a peace treaty between the Mi’kmaq of Shubenacadie and the British.

On his head was a ball cap with a play on the industrial rock band NIN’s logo, cleverly changed to read NDN, meaning “Indian.” He understands the power of visual messages.

Sack told reporters that day, Oct. 15, he is sending a letter to the prime minister, calling for police to protect aboriginal fishers: “Does Trudeau care about our people? Does he care about reconciliation,” he asked. Those are a different kind of fighting words from the often-racist abuse thrown at him in the month-long dispute.

It’s a fight he watched growing up.

In 1999, 35 Mi’kmaq men were charged with cutting timber on Crown lands without authorization. They admitted to the logging but denied they needed permission. They said it was their treaty right. It led to a lengthy legal appeal to the Supreme Court.

One of those loggers was Carl Joseph Sack, the chief’s father.

“I used to cut for him in the woods as a kid. Their equipment was seized and their lumber,” says Sack. “It was the same thing — just wood instead of lobster, I guess.

“We’ve been fighting for this forever.”

Only it wasn’t the same.

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The lumber charges followed on the heels of a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in a similar challenge, when a Mi’kmaq fisherman was charged with catching and selling eels out of season. That case, R. v. Marshall, 1999, accepted the centuries-old treaty that allowed the Mi’kmaq to continue to extract “a moderate livelihood” from its traditional trading activities.

The loggers were not as fortunate as the fisherman. The Supreme Court later differentiated commercial logging from fishing, saying it did not have the same tie to Mi’kmaq’s traditional trading.

The convictions were upheld but Carl Sack died before the final decision was delivered.

Sack came of age during his father’s treaty right dispute. He inherited his father’s fighting spirit and also his father’s businesses.

Sack became an active entrepreneur. He wholly or partially owned several local companies over the years — construction, management, contracting, excavation, seafood brokerage.

He was also involved in band affairs, serving as a band councillor on and off for years since 2004, and was first elected chief in 2016 — defeating the incumbent by just 26 votes.

This mix of business and politics didn’t always go smoothly. His companies did a lot of business for the band, receiving millions  of dollars in contracts over the years. Sack also lent the band money to help with cash flow, often with extremely high interest rates, which a financial audit released in 2014 called “questionable.”

At the time of his first election as chief, Sack had been under a cloud of suspicion. He was elected while owning a luxury house that was partially built with money stolen from the band.

An audit commissioned by the band found $790,000 of band money was unaccounted for between 2009 and 2012. The fraud was pinned on the band’s financial manager, who used some of the stolen money to buy property for a new house. He hired Sack to build it.

When police followed the missing money trail, they found Sack now owned the house. The manager was charged with theft, fraud, breach of trust by a public official and possession of stolen property. Sack was charged with possession of stolen property and perjury.

In 2016, a jury in Halifax convicted the manager. Charges against Sack were withdrawn, after he agreed to an adult diversion process. By Sack’s account, the manager hired him to build the house but halfway through construction couldn’t pay him. His lawyer arranged for him to take ownership of the house in lieu of payment.

While the prosecutor at the manager’s trial said Sack must have been wise to the manager’s schemes, Sack denies it: “I never knew where his money came from,” he says. By agreement, he paid what the manager spent of the band’s money on the house. Sack sold the house a few years ago, he says, having never lived in it. He called it “the house from hell.”

“I had to fight it in court and spend God-knows-how-much or I could (pay) that and it’d be done with. I had a hard time accepting that because I knew I did nothing wrong but, at the same time, I needed my life back on track.”

Once in Digby County, Slack visited the scenes of the lobster dispute and met with his fishers. Things had settled down by Thursday.

Sack hopes it stays that way. For him, this is how this ends, with a whimper not a bang. No more violence but no epic legal showdown, either. He doesn’t want to emulate his father’s plod through a court challenge.

“It’s going to take a long time for people to get used to it. People are uncomfortable with change, so over time, eventually they’ll adapt to it. They have no choice but to adapt to it.”

Sack says he wants to get home for the weekend, with an eye to Monday’s election.

“I don’t know how much I’ll get accomplished campaign-wise,” he says. He will do what he can before the vote.

Chief Mike Sack is coming home from Digby.

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“Battleground” or “swing” states, which can switch back and forth between the two major parties in U.S. presidential votes and are heavily courted by candidates, will be crucial to deciding the winner of this year’s election.

The road to the White House runs through a handful of U.S. states where the election is expected to be especially close, due to changing demographics and the polarizing politics of Republican President Donald Trump.

In total, the election will be decided by about a dozen states that could swing for either Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Opinion polls show Biden with a significant edge nationally, but his lead is tighter in these battlegrounds.

Here’s a look at some of the key races.


Electoral votes: 29

Polls close: 7 p.m. ET (Several counties in northwestern Florida are an hour behind the rest of the state)

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive U.S. House of Representative races in the 15th and 26th districts

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Oct. 28 showed Trump had essentially moved into a tie with Biden in Florida, with 49 per cent saying they would vote for Biden and 47 per cent for the president.

With its 29 electoral votes, the state is a major prize, with its massive senior voting bloc seen as crucial.

On Thursday, Trump and Biden visited the same city hours apart, putting on full display their contrasting approaches to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. Trump staged an outdoor rally in Tampa, while Biden held a drive-in rally later in Tampa where attendees remained in their cars.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 48 per cent of likely voters said Biden would be better at handling the pandemic, while 42 per cent said Trump would be better. Some 52 per cent said Trump would be better at managing the economy, against 41 per cent for Biden.


Electoral votes: 20

Polls close: 8 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. House contests in the 1st and 10th districts

The battleground state of Pennsylvania has the highest odds of any state of being the tipping point in the election, according to an analysis by the FiveThirtyEight website.

Here, tensions have been running high ahead of the vote, with the Philadelphia prosecutor issuing a stark warning for Trump campaign poll-watchers not to overstep their bounds as they search for voter fraud. The Trump campaign has said it is recruiting an “army” of 50,000 volunteers to monitor polling places, an effort Democrats say could suppress the vote.

“Keep your Proud Boys, goon squads, and uncertified ‘poll watchers’ out of our city, Mr. President,” Democratic Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement. “Break the law here, and I’ve got something for you.”

In Pittsburgh, police officers will be working 12-hour shifts during the week of the election, up from the standard eight-hour shift, the department said. A department spokeswoman said the longer shifts have been implemented “on numerous occasions for many different reasons over the years,” though one veteran officer said it was highly unusual for an election week.


Electoral votes: 11

Polls close: 9 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Leaning Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that Trump and Biden remain neck and neck in Arizona. Those voting for Biden were at 48 per cent, and those voting for Trump were at 46 per cent, but the two are statistically tied as the margin is within the survey’s credibility interval.

A prior poll also showed a statistically even race, with 49 per cent for Biden and 46 per cent for Trump, with 37 per cent saying they already had voted.

Fifty per cent said Biden would be better at handling the coronavirus pandemic, with 42 per cent saying Trump would be better.

Fifty per cent said Trump would be better at managing the economy, with 44 per cent saying Biden would be better.

“This election is a choice between a Trump boom and a Biden lockdown,” Trump recently said in this battleground state that he carried four years ago.

*North Carolina*

Electoral votes: 15

Polls close: 7:30 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive governor and U.S. Senate contests

In 2016, North Carolina went for Trump by a margin of 3.6 percentage points. When asked in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll if they approve or disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job of president, 51 per cent said they disapprove, and 41 per cent said they approve.


Electoral votes: 16

Polls close: 8 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

Michigan was one of the three historically Democratic industrial states — the others being Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — that narrowly voted for the Republican Trump in 2016, delivering him an upset victory.

Underscoring the critical importance of the swing state to both campaigns, Trump and Biden have each visited Michigan several times during the campaign and have deployed surrogates, including their running mates and family members.

Trump traveled to Michigan for a rally on Tuesday and plans to return there on Friday. Biden’s trip on Saturday will be his fourth visit in recent weeks.


Electoral votes: 16

Polls close: 7 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Both U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs and considered competitive.

A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday showed Biden with a five percentage-point lead over Trump in Georgia. It’s the first poll in the state where his lead exceeds the margin of error.

If Biden manages to become the first Democratic candidate to turn Georgia blue in 28 years, Asian Americans will likely play a decisive role in that victory.

Their ranks have soared in counties surrounding Atlanta in recent years, attracted to jobs in tech, science and medicine. Now up to almost a quarter million registered voters — more than enough to tip a tight race — Asian Americans here lean heavily Democratic and are highly motivated by economic issues, like income inequality and the call for higher taxes on the rich, pollsters say.

Indian Americans, the largest and wealthiest Asian group in Georgia, are the most inclined to vote for Democrats, research shows. That’s partly due to experiences in their native country, where they’ve seen government-funded higher education, for example, pull many out of hardship.


Electoral votes: 38

Polls close: 8 p.m. ET (Two western counties in Texas are an hour behind the rest of the state.)

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Republican

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

In a sign of the passions sparked by the presidential race, Texas has surpassed its total 2016 vote count four days before Election Day.

Through Thursday, more than 9 million Texans had cast ballots, compared with 8.97 million four years ago, a record high at the time. Neither party knows who will benefit most from the surge, but it has put the reliably Republican state in play as a full-out battleground in the campaign’s final days.

Nowhere has seen a more dramatic display of enthusiasm than Harris County, home to Houston, Texas’s biggest city and the embodiment of its rapid growth and diversifying suburbs. The county’s voting, driven in part by innovations by freshly appointed County Clerk Chris Hollins, so far compose more than 15 per cent of all those cast in the sprawling state.

Texas is among the most closely watched after recent polls have been narrow enough to entice Biden to send his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, to Texas for a tour of the state on Friday.

Many of the Texas counties with the most dramatic surges in early voting are urban centres like Houston, a trend infusing fresh hope into Democrats’ dreams of flipping Texas. But solidly red counties have also seen records. And Texas has historically been lightly polled, leaving analysts skeptical of surveys showing a neck-and-neck presidential race.


Electoral votes: 10

Polls close: 9 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: No governor or U.S. Senate races on the ballot

Trump beat Hillary Clinton here in 2016 by less than 1 point, and Biden’s campaign has touted his support for corn-based biofuels for weeks on rural radio and local television stations.

Biofuel plants are an important source of demand for farmers’ corn, used to make ethanol. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has angered growers by exempting oil refiners from requirements to add ethanol to their gasoline.

Rural America remains Trump country. Nationally, voters who identify as living in rural areas support Trump over Biden by 19 percentage points, up from a 14-point advantage in March, according to Reuters/Ipsos polls.

But there are cracks in Trump’s rural fortress, especially in areas hit hard by the coronavirus. In Wisconsin, Trump’s lead among rural voters shrank to two points in polls conducted Oct. 20-26, from nine points a month earlier, according to the Reuters/Ipsos polls.

The deluge of mail-in ballots makes it likely that the winner of several states, including major battlegrounds such as Wisconsin, will not be clear on Tuesday night. Election officials expect vote-tallying to take days.


Electoral votes: 10

Polls close: 9 p.m. ET

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive contests for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House in the 1st and 7th districts

In hotly contested Minnesota, a federal appeals court on Thursday said Minnesota’s plan to count absentee ballots received after Election Day was illegal, siding with Republicans in the battleground state.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said the deadline extension was an unconstitutional maneuver by the state’s top election official, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.

The ruling came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court left in place North Carolina and Pennsylvania’s extended deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said on Twitter that because of the “last minute” ruling, Minnesotans should vote in person or take a mail-in ballot directly to election officials.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote,” Klobuchar said.

With files from the Washington Post

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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says Canadian workers have been betrayed by political and financial elites, and bemoans the falling rates of private sector unionization as industrial jobs have migrated to China.

His remarks, given in a virtual speech to the Canadian Club Toronto on Friday, are another example of how O’Toole is changing the party’s message since being elected leader in August.

O’Toole’s speech noted that private sector unionization has “collapsed,” observing that one in three private sector workers were union members in the 1950s but today it’s “closer to one in 25.”

“It may surprise you to hear a Conservative bemoan the decline of private sector union membership,” said O’Toole’s prepared remarks. “But this was an essential part of the balance between what was good for business and what was good for employees. Today, that balance is dangerously disappearing. Too much power is in the hands of corporate and financial elites who are happy to outsource jobs abroad. It’s now expected of a shareholder to ask a CEO: ‘Why are we paying a worker in Oshawa 30 dollars an hour when we could be paying one in China 50 cents an hour?'”

O’Toole, whose riding is in the Oshawa area where General Motors factories have steadily scaled back and threatened to close entirely, has made championing workers a key part of his rhetoric. He said he’s seen his hometown of Bowmanville “hollowed out” over the last few decades, a situation made worse now by the economic chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to tell you that everything is not okay,” O’Toole’s speech said, echoing a line that was in a recent Conservative advertisement.

He said Canadian workers used to be able to expect full-time employment, a steady salary and a pension, but that now feels like a “bygone era.”

“Do we really want a nation of Uber drivers?” he asks in the speech. “Do we really want to abandon a generation of Canadians to a Darwinian struggle? A future without the possibility of homeownership? A sense of inevitability? While some benefit, millions are losing hope. And resentment is growing.”

O’Toole also said the Conservatives recognize that during the pandemic, unusual measures are needed to protect vulnerable Canadians.

“We understand the need for deficit spending at a time of national emergency,” he said, and pointed to the precedents set by spending during the World Wars and, more recently, the 2008 financial crisis.

“This is not something I would support in normal times,” he said. “But we are facing more than a health crisis. We are facing the greatest economic crisis of our lifetime.”

But he warned the Liberals are attempting to use this crisis to “launch a risky experiment with our economy,” moving Canada sharply to the left and funding “vast green energy experiments.”

O’Toole’s concluding section of the speech argued that political, financial and business elites have been insulated from economic turmoil as they steadily let China take over more manufacturing jobs.

“We made a mistake in allowing ourselves to de-industrialize,” O’Toole said. “Thirty years ago, the Western world’s political, financial, and business elite made a bet: we would allow China to have unfair access to our market while they protected their own…Once it became rich and prosperous, we hoped it would turn into a good actor, democratize, liberalize, and play by the rules. You all know this hasn’t happened.”

He said it is not in Canada’s national interest to let China manufacture supplies like drugs, masks and ventilators.

“So, I will say this: when the most efficient outcome does not align with our national interest, a Conservative government will ensure that the national interest comes first,” he said. “Free markets alone won’t solve our problems.”

O’Toole concluded by saying that GDP growth is not the “be-all and end-all of politics.”

“We need policies to shore up the core units of society — family, neighbourhood, faith, nation,” he said. “We need policies that build solidarity, not just wealth.”

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Besides voting for the president and vice-president, the U.S. election is also a chance for myriad other issues to be put before the electorate — and not just in terms of Republican and Democratic policy proposals.

In 32 states, there are roughly 120 issues on the ballot. So, at the same time someone votes for president, they may also have a chance to vote on abortion, the legalization of drugs, new flags, electoral reform and other ballot measures, usually called propositions.

Here are a few of the “other” election issues U.S. voters will consider when they go to the polls on Tuesday.


Colorado and Louisiana both have abortion measures on the ballot.

In Colorado, Proposition 115 would outlaw abortion after 22 weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. There is, however, an exception to save the mother’s life. (Most states have limitations on when a person can get abortion; if Colorado passes Prop 115, it would join these ranks.)

In Louisiana, voters will consider a constitutional amendment “to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution.” This would have no immediate effect, but, should federal courts decide there’s no right to abortion, it would prevent state courts in Louisiana finding there’s a right to abortion.


Several states have ballot questions pertaining to cannabis.

Arizona, Montana and New Jersey will consider whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana.

South Dakota is considering whether or not to legalize both recreational and medicinal marijuana.

Mississippi is considering two ballot measures that basically ask a similar question: should there be medical marijuana for certain patients.

*Magic mushrooms*

It’s not just pot that’s on the ballot. Washington, D.C. and Oregon states are contemplating the legalization of psilocybin, or magic mushrooms.

In District of Columbia, the ballot measure calls for the decriminalization of entheogenic plants and fungi, which would include magic mushrooms.

Oregon goes further, calling for the legalization of psilocybin. If that passes, it would be the first state to take this step.


In California, voters will be asked to consider a proposition that would say Lyft and Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees. It’s a gig-economy proposition — the first of its sort in the state. It has pitted the companies against organized labour.


In Colorado, Proposition 114 would ask the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to reintroduce grey wolves to certain parts of the state by the end of 2023. The wolves were basically wiped out in the United States by the mid-20th century. Colorado has had successful reintroductions before. Local media reports indicate the state has reintroduced lynx, elk and bison over the decades.

*Names ‘n’ Flags*

The full name of Rhode Island, believe it or not, is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. A ballot initiative asks voters to consider removing “and Providence Plantations” from the state name. This was rejected in 2010.

In Mississippi, voters will consider a new flag design. They may vote in favour of the new flag or reject the new flag. If the latter happens, a commission will redesign the flag for vote in November 2021. The state’s flag was retired in June 2020, because it paid homage to the slave-owning Confederacy.

These are just some of the more interesting propositions. Scads of other measures are up for decisions, from taxes to election laws.

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My kids have been after me for years to bring an interior designer into the fold for our job sites. And up until recently, I resisted it. Why? Well, for me, it didn’t seem necessary. I felt that our team was up to the task of making the decisions that would usually fall under the responsibility of an interior designer.

But as I let my kids take on more responsibility on the job site, they persisted, and Dad relented. And I have to say, they make an incredible addition to the team. Their knowledge and expertise makes our job as contractors easier — and at the end of the day, that makes for happy homeowners.

So why do you want the services of a contractor AND an interior designer? Here’s why.

*What does an interior designer do?*

When you think interior design, your mind might immediately wander to things like paint colours and furniture choices. Now, sometimes, this is part of it (and for homeowners who are renovating — a key factor), but interior design is more about how you’re going to fundamentally make use of your space.

Do you want an open concept home? They can design the floor plan. Do you want to add a skylight or some new windows? They can help find the perfect spot.

Interior designers are trained in code, and can help make recommendations on those major structural changes in your home. However, at the end of the day you’ll still need an architect to sign off on the plans.

*Your renovation team*

Your contractor and your interior designer will be working closely together, so it’s a good idea to look for a team that can work well together. Often, a contractor will have a designer or two they like working with and vice versa, and they can provide some references for you to check out.

This isn’t an excuse not to do your due diligence and thoroughly vet your team. Renovations are expensive, and you want to ensure it’s done right. Make sure you’re asking for several references from each, and calling their previous clients. Online reviews are a good start, but they shouldn’t be your only source when it comes to hiring the people who will be working on your home.

*Integrating you team*

The most important thing to remember when working with your contractor and your interior designer is that you’re a team. What you shouldn’t do, is hire a designer to come up with a plan — and then once you’ve got the sign off, hire a contractor to do the work.

You want them to each be part of the conversation from the very beginning. A contractor can provide a fresh set of eyes to the designer’s plans and let them know if they’re not feasible for the space. Identifying these problems early is key, because it means less time wasted on the job site, and less materials wasted, which will save you money.

Having the team involved from start to finish is a good way to keep communication open throughout the project. Your team can discuss who’s responsible for ordering which products, and securing permits, and set up a work schedule to ensure things go smoothly.

*Why include a designer?*

You might think that a contractor is sufficient, so what other benefits can adding an interior designer to the equation bring?

I’ve often found that as a contractor, getting homeowners to discuss realistic budgets with me can be like pulling teeth. But if they’ve already spoken to a designer about their vision — the designer can give them a realistic idea of what kind of budget they’d need to be working with.

Not only is this great for the homeowner, as it will allow them to view their renovation realistically — it makes things easier for me as well. This lets me put my focus on the construction of the project itself.

A designer can also get the homeowner to define the specifics of the project. This helps us create a plan of attack for the project, and helps ensure that it’s a success.

I’ve seen the light. From now on, my renovations will include an interior designer as a key part of your team — and if you’re serious about your project, you’ll consider it too.

To find out more about Mike Holmes, visit

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