News/North columnist Roy Erasmus made an excellent point last week.
He drove home the significance of Richard Edjericon, the new MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, running for and winning that seat in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories while he owed more than $100,000 to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.
Erasmus also highlighted the hypocrisy that the GNWT is mired in with respect to the rules it has for candidates for political office. Or rather, the two sets of rules that exist: one for elected officials in the municipalities, and another for the 19 individuals who represent the various regions of the NWT in the legislature as MLAs.
Candidates who register in elections for council in towns, hamlets and villages around the NWT, and in the capital, cannot be indebted to the government they are attempting to become a director of.
The reasons are many and varied. The most compelling among them is the principle that an elected official with significant debt is at higher risk of being persuaded, at best, or bribed, at worst, to use their position for their own enrichment (or that of their creditors). It also creates a perception of a conflict of interest: is this person beholden to the body they owe a debt to, and could that influence their decision-making?
Rocky Simpson made plenty of news for being this position. It was revealed within days of his election to the legislature as the MLA for Hay River South that he owed more than $2 million to the GNWT after failing to deliver on a house-building contract.
And his son, R.J. Simpson, who is now the minister of Justice and of Education, Culture and Employment, worked as the general manager for his dad’s company while this was going on.
So take as many grains of salt as you like when you try to swallow that scenario. Is R.J. Simpson going to order an inquiry into his father’s conduct or financial status?
Let’s give the voters of the NWT some credit, if there’s any left at the BDIC. Edjericon and Simpson ran election campaigns selling themselves, presumably, as effective and responsible stewards of the taxpayer money they would, as members of the assembly, have influence over. Did either of them focus on transparency? Honesty?
What is a voter supposed to think about a candidate who can walk into the legislature with a six- or seven-figure shadow hanging over them, not having uttered a word about it during the campaign?
What else did they fail to mention?
And what happens when more than just two of the 19 MLAs are elected with significant debt? What if half of them are?
It’s time to modernize the NWT Elections Act to bring the rules for candidates for the highest office in the land in line with what’s required of small-town councillors in the communities that these MLAs purport to represent.
Correction: An error appeared in a previous version of this editorial. Richard Edjericon owes money to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, not the Business Development and Investment Corporation. News/North regrets the error and apologizes for any confusion or embarrassment it may have caused.