The Office of the Clerk at the Legislative Assembly should have a “pressure valve,” according to the action plan created in response to complaints of a toxic work environment there.

Frederick Blake Jr., Speaker of the House, released the Workplace Review Action Plan on Dec. 21.

“The creation of this action plan is an important step in improving workplace culture, but it’s only the beginning,” Blake said. “I look forward to overseeing the plan’s implementation and want to thank staff for actively contributing to its development.”

The pressure valve the plan refers to is a human resources position within the clerk’s office that would help defuse interpersonal conflicts. That would address a “gap” created in the clerk’s office when HR for the territorial government was centralized in the Finance department in 2005.

The plan recommends that in the meantime or short-term, Finance department HR staff should spend some time at the Legislative Assembly each week, and that managers be trained so they “have a standard level of human resources knowledge.”

The clerk, Tim Mercer, must report progress on the action plan to the Board of Management each time it meets. The Speaker must report progress to the whole of the Legislative Assembly once per sitting.

The 16-page document contains recommendations for the short-, mid- and long-term under seven “proposed next steps” including the pressure valve, addressing the perception of conflicts of interest and preferential treatment related to staffing, improving communication and breaking down “silos,” and addressing “issues” between clerks and research advisers (also legislative assembly employees), “issues” with MLAs regarding their interactions with Office of the Clerk staff and the “perception of proximity between managers and MLAs.”

Short-term is defined as before March 31, 2022, mid-term items are to be completed before the end of next September.

Other priorities

To address perceptions of inappropriate hirings or appointments, the plan recommends adopting specific guidelines for direct appointments and transfer assignments (in the short term) and adopting guidelines “to address real and perceived conflicts of interest for participation on staffing selection committees” in the mid-term. Also in the mid-term, the code of conduct for the Office of the Clerk should have a section on “perceived and actual conflicts of interest” added.

It says a succession planning framework for the Office of the Clerk is in progress and should be completed in the mid-term.

To improve communication, the plan says clerk’s office employees should be engaged in an internal communications strategy, and a digital sign should be installed at the entrance to the legislature which “lists events or meetings happening each day and week as well as important building-wide announcements.”

It also recommends, in the mid-term, hosting annual events that celebrate “Indigenous languages and cultures in observation of National Indigenous Peoples Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.”

Clerks, advisers, MLAs

The plan recommends, in the short-term, going out-of-house to rebuild the relationships between clerks and advisers by hiring an outside facilitator “to help them identify and agree on updated roles and responsibilities.” It also directs that a review of the organizational structure may reveal other ways of “addressing issues between clerks and advisers.”

The action plan says there should be a “Respectful Workplace or Lateral Violence Awareness Session” for MLAs and that those MLAs be surveyed about their satisfaction with the services provided by the Office of the Clerk each year. It also says MLAs should be re-introduced to clerk staff in small groups at the start of a series of impending caucus meetings, and that there should be “enhanced training” on the role of the clerk’s office and how to work with it.

In addition, it calls for the reinforcement of Blake’s statement as Speaker, that “unfair or inappropriate treatment of staff will not be tolerated, and that members (MLAs) will hold each other accountable when this occurs.”

In order to reinforce a healthy division between Legislative Assembly employees and MLAs, the plan recommends a ”slightly more formal way” of addressing MLAs be used by all staff in the legislature and that clerk office staffers be educated on “necessary and appropriate working relationships and boundaries between employees, managers and members.” It also says that the code of conduct for the clerk’s office ought to be revised to include a section on “perceived or actual relationships between management and members,” and a staff conflict of interest policy that requires the disclosure and management of “new or pre-existing friendships or family ties between employees and members.”

The action plan is the result of a workplace review conducted by a consultant hired by the Board of Management. They interviewed 30 current and former Legislative Assembly employees. Many spoke positively about Mercer and the environment in the Office of the Clerk, but some said accused him of “bullying, yelling at employees, impulsiveness, and (having an) inability to control his temper.”

Craig Gilbert

Craig is an award-winning journalist who has worked in Ontario, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta. He should be at least six feet away from you at all times.

Leave a comment

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.