The legal firm hired by Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn and Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Latour took aim this week with a fiery retort to the summary of the workplace review of the Office of the Clerk of the Northwest Territories released by Quintet Consulting.
On Aug. 26, Quintet released the summary of its review and investigation into allegations of workplace harassment at the legislature’s top office and that clerk Tim Mercer managed a toxic workplace.
The report concluded that Mercer’s office was not a toxic workplace, though did have problems involving unity of its staff members and questions surrounding his leadership.
It also dismissed three of four specific complaints into Mercer’s conduct. Two of those that were found not credible, according to the report, came from Latour and Norn.
Steven Cooper, partner with Cooper Regel responded to the Quintet report Aug. 27 with a three-page press release questioning the document’s conclusions and the company’s understanding of a Northern workplace like the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories within the context of the consensus governing system.
“The investigation report produced by Quintet is a by-product of a dysfunctional and corrupt system,” Cooper said. “The investigation was limited to an artificial short time-frame and the investigators were so hamstrung by the terms of reference that its findings are largely irrelevant.”
The lawyer pointed to the study’s own findings which stated that “important problems exist which require the attention of a convening authority” and that if those problems are left unaddressed, will lead to an unhealthy workplace for more employees.
“If that is not a toxic workplace, one wonders what Quintet would need to conclude otherwise,” he said.
Cooper also referred to the statement Mercer released shortly after the report was made public. Mercer said he was pleased with the findings and would accept them fully, noting that the accusations against him, including of overseeing a toxic workplace, were not found to be credible.
Cooper responded to those comments.
“Mr. Mercer, in his public statement in his official role as Clerk of the Legislative Assembly suggests that somehow he has been vindicated and that the complaints are without merit,” Cooper wrote.
“He acknowledges a previous breach of confidentiality. The remainder of his ill-considered public statement consists of gaslighting and misstatements of fact. He has been identified as a dysfunctional and ineffective leader in the Clerk’s office.”
As for the treatment of his clients Latour and Norn, Cooper said their foundational complaints were given scant acknowledgement in the report.
“Ms. Latour provided detailed descriptions of the ongoing manipulation and abuse that she suffered at the hands of Mr. Mercer,” he said. “She provided supportive examples and yet the entirety of her two interviews is dismissed in five sentences near the end of the report. The report writer reduced her complaints to one of racism.”
Cooper was vexed by the passing reference to Norn in the Quintet report.
“His complaints are reduced to a single reference to Mr. Mercer lashing out when confronted with allegations of undue influence.”
Past and present MLAs identified by Norn as witnesses “Quintet refused to interview” and were depicted inaccurately, Cooper said.
Both Norn and and Latour provided comments in the Cooper letter which were similar in that they were dissatisfied with the outcome.
Norn pointed to problems with the civil service as not being professional, independent and nonpartisan.
“The Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly has not fulfilled its proper constitutional and parliamentary obligations for quite some time,” he said.
“We need more members of the Legislative Assembly to stand up for democracy and push back against bureaucracy.”
Latour described her frustration with the interview process and her findings that Quintet had little understanding of political environments, especially in the North.
“The report resolves nothing other than to embolden Mr. Mercer in his unparliamentary conduct and the good citizens of the Northwest Territories are once again left without conclusive accountability,” he said.
Bigger systemic problems
Much of Cooper’s letter attempted to describe a wider problem of the Government of the Northwest Territories being an outdated and antidemocratic system where bureaucrats have gained too much influence.
“The problem is not with one individual, Mr. Mercer or otherwise,” Cooper said. “The problem is with a system that has lost its way. Consensus government relies on personal and professional characteristics that have long departed the Legislative Assembly.”
Cooper says that elected members routinely put up with “a civil service that intimidates, manipulates and terrorizes those elected or appointed to represent” the NWT.
“Tim Mercer is the symptom, not the disease,” he added.
Quintet president Raphael Szajnfarber declined comment in an Aug. 27 email.