Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, one of the more eloquent speakers in the NWT Legislative Assembly, is fed up with media coverage of what she has characterized as “sideshows,” singling out News/North as a main culprit.
In her member statement of Dec. 7, we think Martselos voices the view of the majority of Northerners. In May of 2020, a sudden motion to remove then Minister Katrina Nokleby failed, leaving the public scratching their heads. Nokleby, unable to take a hint, was demoted to ordinary MLA in August for being an irascible bully.
We’ve witnessed the baffling spectacle of the Clerk of the Assembly (Tim Mercer) doing battle with a minister, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson and two regular MLAs, former Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn and now Nunakput Jackie Jacobson.
Who can forget MLA Norn breaking the Covid-19 rules, sending people into quarantine, denying he did it, then threatening his fellow MLAs when cornered by an inquiry laying bare the undeniable facts of his own misbehaviour?
It’s all been going on for almost two years.
In the spirit of encouraging the sound leadership for which Martselos is calling, we would like to examine recent history, using hindsight.
When two people spoke to News/North describing the Clerk of the Assembly Clerk Mercer violently (at least in tone and body language) arguing with Minister Thompson in the middle of the offices of the legislative assembly, we asked Speaker Blake, the boss of all these people, for comment.
In hindsight, Speaker Blake should have marched into the Minister’s area and requested a meeting with the people involved, telling them: “This is in the public eye. We must act. What happened?” Then he could have said to the media: “Serious matter. We are looking into it. There will be a statement next week when we have all the facts.”
That would have been a better beginning to a speedier, more reasonable resolution.
Instead, he had a different agenda. Speaker Blake refused to comment on the record. So did Minister Thompson. So did Jackie Jacobson, the one person who took action to diffuse the situation by insisting both parties move to his office and use their inside voices. Why did no one tell the truth they all knew? Why did no MLA stand up and ask?
One public servant was troubled enough to complain to the Workers Safety Compensation Commission. WSCC policy prevents the public from knowing either the substance of the complaint nor the outcome or if anything was done at all.
Mercer, the one accused of unprofessional behaviour, did speak. He said it was all OK. The conversation was “heated” but it’s all good. No blows were exchanged.
Then more assembly staff came forward with complaints and an inquiry was mounted.
Speaker Blake, an unabashed fan of Mercer’s, crafted a softball inquiry, instructing the consultants he hired, Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting, to “not investigate the veracity of the concerns raised by the participants,” nor were they to “test the quality of the evidence gathered or assess participants’ credibility,” in the workplace review.
Watering the workplace review down even more, the ‘altercation’ with Minister Thompson was excluded from the frame of reference.
Four specific allegations chosen by Speaker Blake were elevated to ‘investigation’. One of the complaints was found to have merit but the complainant, according to their lawyer, is still waiting after four months to be told if any steps were taken to discipline the clerk for the transgression.
In another story, News/North asked the Norn inquiry adjudicator how Jacobson’s affidavit containing the description of what happened between Mercer and Thompson got to the clerk’s office. The ajudicator withheld the fact he had it delivered, generating more headlines. The affidavit substantiated what was related to News/North in May 2020.
Once they had the affidavit, the Speaker and the clerk’s office did two things: First they used it to launch an ethics complaint against Jacobson with Integrity Commissioner David Jones. (Incidentally, Mr. Jones is an Edmonton resident. Apparently the North doesn’t have any people with enough experience, brains and integrity to fill the position.) Then they used it to force Jacobson to declare a conflict of interest in an Oct. 4 meeting believed to be held to bring back Mercer, exonerated, from his paid leave. We don’t know the outcome of the ethics complaint but hopefully it’s dismissed and ends all the drama.
The point is, standing between the people and the truth always ends badly. Norn found that out the hard way. Martselos, now caucus chair, is feeling the pain along with the people of the NWT.
Hopefully, MLAs will learn from the recent mistakes made mishandling the truth. If not, they will continue to repeat them and ultimately damage the consensus government they say they value so highly.