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Yellowknifer editorial: Edjericon’s aggressive strategy against health minister is a calculated risk

Tales of insufficient health care services can light a fire under an earnest politician, and be enough to make any compassionate human being feel sympathetic.
Richard Edjericon, MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, was turfed from the NWT Legislative Assembly on May 31 for breaching decorum in the House a day earlier and refusing to apologize for it. He launched a fiery verbal assault against Health Minister Julie Green, with whom he’s had a running battle as his constituents in Fort Resolution denounce health services far below the standards enjoyed in Yellowknife. NNSL file photo

Tales of insufficient health care services can light a fire under an earnest politician, and be enough to make any compassionate human being feel sympathetic.

With that in mind, Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon stood in the House of the NWT Legislative Assembly on May 30 to take Health Minister Julie Green to task over health-related struggles that his constituents are facing.

Indeed, several Fort Resolution residents shared their woes with NWT News/North in April, telling of community nurses who allegedly refused to provide emergency responses; misdiagnoses; being billed $4,500 for a baby’s emergency medical travel; temporary reductions in services at the local health centre due to staff shortages; and being forced to have family members provide certain treatments at home because the health facility’s staff aren’t prepared to take on the responsibilities.

Edjericon described the troubling situation as overwhelming.

That surely influenced his choice of words when he targeted Green in the legislature late last month, but so too could his stated desire to see her removed from her ministerial role. Tensions between the two politicians have been simmering for several weeks, at least.

Green and Edjericon engaged in an email exchange in late April that quickly went nuclear. Green fired the opening salvo in the leaked correspondence with what can easily be interpreted as patronizing words. She began her missive with: “I know you are a new MLA learning the ropes.”

Rushing to Edjericon’s defence in the legislative assembly was Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby, who has had her own standoffs with Green. Seemingly referring to the email in question, Nokleby noted on May 31 that while Edjericon is a new addition to the assembly, he’s proved to be a quick learner and is a veteran politician in many other respects, including past service as a Yellowknives Dene chief.

In her correspondence to Edjericon, Green resorts to the high-handed cabinet minister tactic of directing an MLA not to go public with concerns but to bring them directly to her instead. How lovely life would be for all member of the executive council if they could so easily silence dissent.

Edjericon, understandably, took great offence to that, particularly in the context of Green, a non-Indigenous politician with ministerial powers, attempting to muzzle an Indigenous counterpart. The email “in both tone and content is entirely inappropriate,” Edjericon replied to the health minister, alluding to ugly historical precedents in Canada.

Green denied any racial overtones, insisting that she strives to “deepen cultural respect and safety,” and invited Edjericon to meet with her in-person.

The Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA then confessed that he will readily support any motion to have Green removed from her portfolio.

All that animus preceded the May 30 confrontation in the legislative assembly. It was a powder keg.

Edjericon accused Green of threatening to “ignore complaints from the public” and “gaslighting” his constituents. The combative language, which violated the decorum of the House, left the door wide open for Green to raise a point of order. She did so, and Speaker Frederick Blake found her complaint valid the next day. Edjericon refused to apologize and was ordered to leave the Legislative Assembly for that day, May 31.

Whether Edjericon lost his temper, crossed the ethical line and then refused to back down, or whether he deliberately set out to impugn Green’s reputation, isn’t known for sure, but his lack of atonement would appear to indicate the latter.

Politics, of course, is a high-stakes chess match. Edjericon’s fiery display cost him a day of debate, but surely gained him political credit with many frustrated residents in Fort Resolution. But the penalties for repeated behaviour of that nature mean it’s not a viable long-term strategy, unless momentum from his colleagues grows behind him.

We eagerly await the next move.