The Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Monfwi apologized on Friday for suggesting the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) shuffle himself out of his position the previous day.
The comments arose out of a tense exchange between MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong and Minister of ENR Shane Thompson during a meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Feb. 24. Weyallon Armstrong was objecting to the size of the Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Conservation Area, a mobile zone where the hunting of caribou is prohibited, which is designed to protect the Bathurst caribou herd.
“When I first became the Minister of ENR, the first thing I said to the department [was] ‘I do not want to be the minister responsible for no caribou in the Northwest Territories; I made that very clear,’” said Thompson.
He said the Bathurst caribou herd is facing a population crisis and is at “record low” numbers: 6,240 caribou according to an estimate from last June, down from 470,000 in 1986.
“If the mobile zone was reduced at this time, it would put the collaborative conservation efforts at risk,” he said.
In response, Weyallon Armstrong said “If the minister doesn’t want to be known as the minister who get rid of all the Bathurst, or known for getting rid of certain species, then I think he should change or do a cabinet shuffle, because that’s not the answer that we wanted to hear.”
She want on to say that ENR officials “were not telling people the truth” about why the zone was the size it was.
At the opening of the next day’s Committee of the Whole Meeting, Government House Leader R.J. Simpson raised multiple points of order in response to the remarks. “The member for Monfwi used language in our Assembly which offends the rules of debate order and decorum when she said ‘they are not telling the truth,’” he said.
He said that during the exchange, Weyallon Armstrong had criticized an unnamed ENR staffer who was not present to defend themselves.
He also said she had “undermined” the principles of consensus government by suggesting Thompson should shuffle himself out of his position.
He asked committee chair Ronald Bonnetrouge to direct Weyallon Armstrong to rescind her comments and apologize to the assembly.
Weyallon Armstrong defended her comments under which the first two points were raised. “I am a passionate advocate for my constituents, and I am here to speak on their behalf,” she said.
“I was expressing what my constituents have been saying to me.”
She did, however, apologize for and rescind her comment about the minister being shuffled out of his position.
Both MLAs Kevin O’Reilly and Katrina Nokleby defended Weyallon Armstrong’s comments: “While the member may have gotten passionate, it was done with true intent for her people,” said Nokleby.
Bonnetrouge ruled that there was no point of order for the first two points, and accepted her apology for the third.