Suspended chief electoral officer Nicole Latour is winding down her Northern career and is planning to move to Nova Scotia with her husband Jeff before the end of the year, perhaps as soon as next month.
In Monday’s confidential MLA caucus agenda obtained by NNSL, the Legislative Assembly’s Board of Management indicated it would not reappoint Latour after Sept. 30 and would be suspending her with cause and pay for public comments made through her lawyer after the workplace summary report into the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly was released.
The board is recommending that she be replaced by Stephen Dunbar, who would oversee the 2023 territorial election. He’s expected to step into the role in October.
“Subsequent to this decision, the board suspended Ms. Latour for cause with pay until the end of her employment,” the agenda states. “This was done as a result of the public statement she made following the release of the third-party investigation, publicly aligning herself with a sitting member (MLA Steve Norn) and a formal complaint of a threat and harassment received from a member of the public.”
The document also pointed out that the workplace report and investigation dismissed five of Latour’s allegations relating to clerk Tim Mercer, the most damning of which was that he allegedly wanted her removed because of her Indigenous ethnicity.
This flew in the face of other parts of the report, which found Mercer was widely seen as a champion of promoting Indigenous staff.
“Ms. Latour’s statement that she believes Mr. Mercer wanted to remove her because she is Indigenous represented a serious allegation that was carefully considered,” according to the report. “Ultimately, Ms. Latour did not make a prima facie case that Mr. Mercer’s conduct related to her race or any other prohibited ground of discrimination.”
Latour denied that she placed much emphasis on her Indigenous ethnicity being a reason why she felt Mercer wanted her removed or that she ever colluded with Norn, but she did make public statements following the report through their shared lawyer, Steven Cooper.
Latour admitted to making inappropriate comments with regards to the formal complaint that she now regrets but viewed it as a moment of frustration and not the threat that was depicted.
First appointed to oversee NWT elections in 2014, Latour granted NNSL Media an interview and a tour of her home in Hay River shortly after the August workplace review summary report into the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly was completed — in which she was one of four key complainants.
Born and raised in the North, Latour said her involvement in the Mercer affair and her suspension, which she expected, boils down to her wanting to fight for the independence of Elections NWT and accountability to the electorate.
“It’s not like I’m in the fetal position crying,” she said. “I’m just so frustrated that when you’re trying to do good work and you’re unsupported, why continue subjecting yourself?”
She insisted that the GNWT needs systemic change because senior officials within the government have to go through a much more rigorous process to get hired compared to new MLAs, and that was evident this past assembly. As a result, elected members are over-reliant on unelected people who manipulate governance, according to Latour. A key example of this, she believes, is with the Board of Management, who she doesn’t believe is acting with full information and is being guided too much by civil servants in the assembly.
“Consensus government doesn’t work well, we’ve tried it, and it’s not working,” she said.”The decision-making models, when you have elected people ill-equipped to do this, they can’t know everything about everything.
“Working for the GNWT, we go through a fairly rigorous exercise to vet for competency. This is absent in how we vote our members in.”
Latour sees herself in the vein of outgoing MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose excerpt from her book ‘Indian in the Cabinet:Speaking Truth To Power’ was released last weekend, discussing her experience as federal Justice Minister under the federal Liberal government during the SNC Lavalin affair.
“It absolutely is (comparable) and look what happened to (Wilson-Raybould),” she said, noting that a mudslinging campaign began, which she also anticipated. “I expect the same outcome. She stood on her integrity and she’s a principle person, and it’s the same thing for me.
“People have been checking in with me asking if I’m OK, and I’m good. But a lot of what I’m saying needs to be said. Like if I don’t say it, who is? This territory has been limping along for how long and what are we accomplishing?
“Speaking truth to power often comes with retaliation and it is disruptive because you are threatening people’s ideologies, personal station or views.”