Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn held a rare news conference Monday morning calling for a third-party investigation into the conduct of House clerk Tim Mercer, alleging that the legislature has become a toxic workplace.
Mercer, however, responded by saying that he welcomes an investigation to get past allegations that have been levelled against him. He denied that the heart of the NWT’s government has been the negative place of employment that has has been described in recent media reports.
Norn’s news conference followed two complaints related to Mercer made public last week – one from legislative adviser April Taylor and the other from chief electoral officer Nicole Latour, who alleged harassment, bullying and other poor treatment.
Norn said he believes Mercer has overstepped his authority on more than one occasion and has shown “disrespectful behaviour and shocking attempts to intimidate me and other MLAs in the 19th Assembly.
”The clerk on several occasions has lashed out at other MLAs who disagreed with him on matters, which we as duly elected members are the sole decision-makers in this House,” he said.
“The role of the Office of the Clerk is to provide MLAs (guidance) on procedural matters and assist us on doing our work. Period. Yet this clerk believes that his role (is) to make unilateral decisions on a great many things, including the appointment of statutory officers, the political management committees and even tone and language used in official reports whose contents are directed by MLAs.”
Norn said that when he has attempted to protest the clerk’s “undue influence” in his responsibilities, it has been met with “anger, demeaning language and, in one case, alleged use of physical violence against a sitting member in this House.”
Norn said that he wants the Board of Management committee of MLAs to launch a formal inquiry into Mercer’s conduct. He would then like to see a report tabled in the legislature.
The Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA said the workplace culture at the legislature has been undermined by the clerk during his tenure, which stretches back before this assembly.
“The Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories has become infested with an ethical rot that is undermining the well-being of staff, elected officials and even our democracy,” said Norn.
“For a very long time now, some 14 years, abuses of authority, intimidation have become commonplace in the administration of the Legislative Assembly through the leadership of the Office of the Clerk. The occupant of that office has accumulated great power and influence over the years and has used it to bully, demean and terrorize his subordinates and even threaten well-being of the elected members.”
He called on current and former employees to step forward with their complaints or get in touch with his office.
Norn said he appeared before the Board of Management – made up of regular MLAs and Cabinet members – on Feb. 11-12 “to discuss serious matters” about Mercer.
As of Monday, he had not received any feedback from the board, which he felt was “concerning.”
Mercer said in an email response on Monday that he supports Norn’s call for an investigation.
“I welcome and encourage it,” he stated. “It is the only way to respond to these allegations. A public shaming and media circus discredits everyone, and mostly the institution of the Legislative Assembly and the employees who serve it.”
Mercer expressed confidence in staff morale at the assembly and said complaints about a toxic workplace aren’t consistent with what he and his close-knit employees know to be true.
“The last year and a half have been very challenging for all staff of the assembly,” he stated. “It seems as though the workplace has been dealing with this sort of drama from the start of this assembly. Staff have been properly briefed by the deputy clerk about what is going on and what to expect. I know my staff well. I have no hesitation in saying that the vast majority, if not all of the staff, past and present, would take serious issue with Ms. Taylor and Mr. Norn’s characterization of our work place.”
Mercer added that some of the staff at the assembly have come from poor workplaces in the past.
“The Legislative Assembly is not a toxic workplace,” he asserted. “I suppose if you dig back 14 years, as Mr. Norn is suggesting, you will find exceptions to this. I can’t imagine any workplace would be any different. But it is my firmly held view that these would be few and far between.”