Skip to content

Premier broke the law in Aurora College firing, MLA says

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty speaks in the Legislative Assembly building last October. Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty has doubled down on his allegation that Premier Caroline Cochrane broke the law when firing former Aurora College president Tom Weegar this month.

Only the minister of education can fire the president of Aurora College, according to a non-binding legal opinion from Yellowknife firm Lawson Lundell that Lafferty tabled in the legislative assembly Wednesday evening. According to him, that means when Cochrane ordered the firing of Tom Weegar earlier this month, it was illegal.

“The legal opinion clearly lays out that she did indeed overstep her authority as a premier, and went over the minister of education’s (head) to make that decision,” Lafferty said in an interview Wednesday evening.

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty speaks in the legislative assembly building last October.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

'I will not apologize'

Weegar held two roles: Aurora College president, and associate deputy minister of post-secondary education renewal. Lafferty’s legal opinion states Cochrane could only fire him as a deputy minister, not as a college president.

The power to fire Weegar from his position as president lies solely with Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson, Lafferty said.

Cochrane maintains that the decision was made in consultation with Simpson, and that she has the power to hire and fire Weegar. Simpson's powers are limited to statutory appointments, she said.

That said, there has been at least three inconsistencies in Simpson’s description of Weegar’s departure.

First, on Feb. 5, the minister said Weegar had “stepped away to pursue other opportunities.” The day after, he remarked that “Obviously, stories change and it came out that it was termination.”

Afterward, he said he had been consulted and supported the departure.

“Two weeks ago, I approached the premier and expressed my belief that a change needed to happen, and it needed to happen sooner than later,” he said on Feb 7.

Emboldened by the legal opinion's assertion that Cochrane broke the rules, Lafferty insisted she overstepped her authority in the firing. When the former rival for premier asked her to apologize for firing Weegar, Cochrane flatly declined.

“No, I will not apologize,” she told the assembly.

Chiding Lafferty as “confused," she asked him if we would like the entire staff directory of the Department of Justice to brief him on the issue.

“At no time have I broken the law”

It’s not the first time Cochrane has sparred with Lafferty over the legality of Weegar’s firing.

“At no time have I broken the law,” she told MLAs on Feb. 10, defending her interpretation where Simpson could make statutory appointments, but she did the hiring and firing.

Since Weegar’s dismissal, cabinet has also aimed to tamp down concerns raised by the firing, calling it a human resources matter. Member statements have dwindled after the initial news broke.

But during an interview with NNSL Media, Lafferty predicted renewed interest from the public and fellow MLAs who largely appear to have moved on from the issue.

“Even if I’m alone in this (pursuit) of getting accurate information on the process, still the voice is out there,” he said.

He said assembly members are obliged to respond.

When asked if there was any precedent or similar situations to draw on, Lafferty said nothing came to mind. He instead pointed to the Public Services Act and the Aurora College Act as support of his claims. Next steps would be a topic of discussion between members, he said.

“If somebody, overstepped their authority, or let’s say, they broke the law, we can’t just ignore it. We have to deal with it somehow,” he said.