In the wake of revelations about a Legislative Assembly member’s indebtedness to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NTHC), a fellow MLA is questioning whether or not laws barring candidates who owe money from running would be constitutional.
“Not at all convinced it would be Charter compliant,” said Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson. “Enfranchisement in the constitution doesn’t just have some extra rules we can decide to make up.”
A December 2019 writ of execution from the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories shows Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon was indebted to the NTHC to the tune of more than $113,000. The debt was related to a mortgage he had taken out with CIBC. This debt did not become public knowledge until after Edjericon was elected to represent the district of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh earlier this month.
Under the heading “Democratic Rights,” the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”
Regardless of whether or not such rules would be constitutional, “I think the idea of limiting the franchise if you owe the government money is a terrible idea,” said Johnson. “I’m not even supportive of it at the municipal level.”
Under the Local Authorities Elections Act, residents of the NWT can’t run for office at the municipal level if they have owed more than $500 to the municipal corporation for more than 90 days.
The revelation sparked renewed conversations about eligibility rules for territorial candidates, and whether or not those who owe large sums of money to government bodies should be allowed to run for office.
This is the second time a member of the current Legislative Assembly was found to owe a significant sum to a government body after taking office.
Just days after his election in 2019, Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson was revealed to owe $1.8 million to the Northwest Territories Business Development and Investment Corporation via his company, Concept Energy.
The NWT’s chief electoral officer (CEO) did recommend introducing a new rule that would ban those who owed money to the government from running for office following the last election.
Following the 2019 election, the CEO issued a report with several recommendations for strengthening election integrity in the NWT. Among these was a recommendation that the rules around indebtedness in the Local Authorities Elections Act be adopted at the territorial level.
The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures then issued its own report on these recommendations, in which it decided against this recommendation. In their report, the committee argued that such a rule would create “irrelevant restrictions on running. A potential candidate being indebted to a municipality of the GNWT are not generally considered relevant factors in Canada.”
“While, politically speaking, such indebtedness is likely a hindrance on winning an election, banning people who may owe money to a level of government is likely an unconstitutional limitation.”
Johnson was an alternate on the committee at the time, but says he was not involved in any of the discussions around the recommendations.
Neither Kevin O’Reilly, the committee’s chair at the time, nor Jackie Jacobson, the current chair, responded to a request for comment asking to elaborate on this decision.
Edjericon did not respond to a request for comment.