As people ponder the “guilty” verdict handed down to MLA Steve Norn (Tu Nedhé – Wiilideh), it’s important to examine recent history.
Last February, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly was accused of creating a “toxic workplace” by various assembly staff. Speaker Frederick Blake Jr., responsible for the clerk’s office and the employees of the assembly, hired the same firm that investigated the “toxic” work environment under the former astronaut and former Governor General of Canada Julie Payette.
So now we have a secret report from these southern consultants saying, out of two specific complaints, the clerk was guilty on one, the other was found baseless. In a public report, conversations consultants had with assembly staff yellowflagged a few problems but nothing serious enough to warrant any top level staff changes. The clerk is back to work after some seven months on paid leave.
We have to ask: Why didn’t Speaker Blake, the boss of the assembly, look at the complaint himself ASAP? Blake makes $158,971 a year to manage. assembly operations and affairs. The clerk is, after all, a staff position, not the Governor General of an entire country with an official role in the Canada’s legislative machinery.
Champions of objective process may view the Speaker as potentially biased toward his top dog. We would remind them there is Employment Standards, the NWT Human Rights Commission, the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission, if not the Union of Northern Workers that the rest of us staff rely on for workplace justice. Why are these well-resourced and competent bodies not enough for the Assembly workplace?
The fact is, they are. This exercise represented a lot of money, staff time and energy wasted.
Which brings us to the Norn inquiry. Again, the GNWT hired the very high-priced legal tag-team of a retired prairie judge and his long-time prairie lawyer to weigh Norn’s guilt. Why? It’s not a complex case. Norn couldn’t handle the 14 days of isolation. He was seen out multiple times, a breach of CPHO’s orders, punishable by a $2,000 fine. He made a public statement that confirmed he was infected. Then when asked incriminating questions by news people, he denied breaking any rules, a clear breach of public trust.
Again, rather than looking south for Northern judgement on Norn’s behaviour, why didn’t the MLAs make their own judgement? They are going to have to make the decision anyway. The facts have to be with the GNWT’s own covid secretariat sources, that $86 million task force of pandemic data collection and virus detection. They also had proof on the assembly’s security cameras. All that was required was a judgement by the GNWT’s own integrity commissioner and a recommendation to the legislative assembly.
Do MLAs need consultants to tell them how to decide and punish people breaking the rules? It’s in the covid regulations.
If MLAs wanted to broaden consultation on the gravity of Norn’s misbehaviour, there is a rich choice of Northerners ready to advise the assembly. Every territory of the NWT – Akaitcho, Tlicho, Deh Cho, Sahtu,Gwich’in, Inuvialuit and Métis – has completely competent, seasoned candidates. To name anyone here would be to leave out so many equally worthy – past premiers, MLAs, chiefs, mayors, councillors across the NWT.
The bigger question: Does this pattern speak to a lack of confidence, if not contempt, the present MLAs and their civil service has for past Northern politicians, if not Northern institutions, of which the Legislative Assembly is the main one?