Katrina Nokleby was removed from the executive council of the 19th Legislative Assembly by a vote from MLAs on Wednesday.
The tally came out 16 in favour of removal, one abstention and one opposed.
Nokleby’s was the sole vote of opposition and Jackie Jacobson, MLA for Nunakput abstained from the vote. Nokleby remains the MLA for Great Slave.
In the session which last two hours and was at times tense, all 18 regular members including Premier Caroline Cochrane took turns to speak and explained their reasons behind their vote.
Her removal comes one week after Cochrane revoked Nokleby’s appointments as minister of Infrastructure and minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI). Shane Thompson takes over ITI and RJ Simpson takes over Infrastructure.
A motion tabled by Cochrane on Monday sought unanimous consent for Nokleby’s removal from the executive council, but since the former Infrastructure minister was the sole member to vote against it, the voting was moved up to Wednesday.
The premier was the first to speak in Wednesday’s session and she outlined some of the reasons behind her decision to remove Nokleby, painting an unflattering picture of a minister who was disrespectful towards other ministers and resistant to constructive criticism.
“Disrespectful and abusive”
Nokleby said she had learned from the non-confidence motion brought against her in May, Cochrane explained, but the former minister has said the issues don’t concern her or are the fault of others.
“After many unsuccessful attempts to address concerns directly with Minister Nokleby repeatedly turned into an exchange where I or staff were subjected to a rude and disrespectful minister who was yelling, angry and using vulgar language,” Cochrane said.
“The minister also openly expressed negative, degrading and potentially harmful personal opinions about various public servants both to the individuals and to others. This put the government at legal risk and is also unfair to the staff who are unable to defend themselves with an equal amount of power and also undermines the morale among the public service.”
The premier added that another concern was Nokleby’s “failure to manage her office.”
“Failure to be responsive and transparent can have serious consequences. Failure to respond meaningfully and promptly to concerns from the public and MLAs will occasionally happen. And I appreciate that we faced extraordinary demands with the pandemic. But replies should not be waiting months without an interim response.”
“Inattention to Indigenous partners”
Steve Norn, MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, explained when he stood up to address the Assembly that he has grave concerns regarding the minister’s attention to the interests of our Indigenous partners.
“We have seen both the Tlicho and Akaitcho governments condemn the inaction of the GNWT on addressing key economic concerns related to the minister’s portfolios. The Rae Access Road and the Slave Geological Province (Corridor) are both key infrastructure projects vital to our economic recovery.”
But, Norn said, the minister didn’t see that and didn’t involve them as partners, forcing the GNWT to backtrack in procurement deals and causing “lasting damage to our relationship” with those Indigenous governments who are now skeptical of the GNWT.
He added that months ago he hoped to see improvements from Nokleby but that such improvements didn’t come to reality.
A heated exchanged had allegedly occurred between the two members in May, although Norn shrugged off as an incident of high emotions.
But before Norn closed his statement, he expressed a conciliatory tone and said Nokleby should “hold her head high after all of this is said and done.”
“She has a lot accomplishments and supporters,” he said.
Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake, told the Assembly that the speed with which Nokleby took on her duties was too slow. O’Reilly said it took too long to open the application process for the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) program, launched to help companies affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I first raised concerns with the delays in SEED funding on April 22nd, the minister finally responded in an email dated Aug. 18 with information on the allocation of funds. That’s a 16-week wait, Mr. Speaker. This is quite disturbing after many emails attempting to get this information, which is still not clearly explained on the departmental website.”
Jackson Lafferty, MLA for Monfwi, said that while he appreciates the challenges a minister takes on in the job, he believes Nokleby failed at fulfilling her responsibilities.
He pointed specifically to the way Nokleby dealt with the Rae Access Road rehabilitation project, near Behchoko, and said she mishandled the procurement procedures with the Tlicho Government.
“Instead of working diligently to reach out to her federal counterparts and work on securing the funding changes needed to meet the agreement, she made excuses and prioritized the needs of GNWT over the needs of my people, Tlicho people. Not only were her actions contrary to the spirit and intent of the Tlicho Agreement, they could have resulted from a legal challenge from the Tlicho Government that could have cost the taxpayers a significant amount of dollars.”
“It is past time this cabinet has a shake up. I believe that appointing a new minister to the executive council from the small communities will accomplish this change in focus. I have lost confidence in this minister,” Lafferty said.
A press release from the Legislative Assembly issued after the session stated that only members from Yellowknife would be eligible for nomination to the vacancy on the executive council.
“Gossip, hearsay, rumours and bruised feelings”
Standing up to give her own defense, and visibly agitated, Nokleby said it was a “sad day” for herself, her constituents, people of the NWT and some people in the Assembly.
During her tenure as minister, she endeavoured to make positive changes in her departments and wouldn’t accept that things should stay the same just because that’s how they were always done, she said.
“I had many concerns with current practices including what I call ‘gaming the system’. In all cases I carried out my duties with integrity and passion. Was I perfect? Of course not. Was I outspoken? Of course I was. That is who I am. I will always remain honest and open in my interactions on behalf of those that elected me.”
“One of the challenges of working within our current government is the level of secrecy that is demanded by current conventions, especially at the cabinet level. Secrecy and innuendo are the hallmarks of corruption and backroom dealings. Not the transparent and accountable government that the public deserves. The toxic culture of secrecy has allowed my character and professionalism to be disparaged.”
“I’m disappointed that I have been unfairly admonished without any due process and based on nothing more than gossip, heresay, rumours and bruised feelings,” she said.
“If this truly had to do with my performance as a minister, there are measures that could have been taken well before now.”
“Lacks required humility”
Caroline Wawzonek, Minister of Finance, said she believes that to be effective, a minister must have a capacity for teamwork and humility.
“In my view, an effective minister should not point to the department team or its individual members and cast them down,” she said, adding that her concerns with Nokleby don’t relate to a single incident but a “totality of observations” she had made over time.
“It is hard in the role of an elected politician to sometimes have to admit that we or the departments for which we’re accountable may have made a mistake and to stand up and say sorry,” Wawzonek said. “From my observations over the past few months…I am concerned that minister Nokleby lacks the humility required to accept a relevant level of accountability for a minister.”
In making a final remark, the finance minister said that at least one of her colleagues has expressed that they feel fearful to speak “too forcefully in support of this motion lest they be subject to ‘wrath.’ Honestly, I share some of those feelings. But, Mr. Speaker, I did not seek this office to come here and allow myself or any other member of the assembly to feel intimidated. For all of these reasons I will vote in favour of the motion.”
In her final comments before the Assembly adjourned, the premier responded to alleged corruption mentioned by Nokleby.
“This is not a case of a crusader against corruption being persecuted. You do not crusade against corruption by firing every staff member you hear a rumour about. You do not fight against corruption by failing to record meetings with those seeking to influence you.
“You fight corruption by working with your colleagues – not against them – focusing on common goals.”
Jacobson said that he didn’t have enough information to make “sound judgement” on what was happening, and would abstain.
“(Nokleby) did all that I needed in my riding. I had a good working relationship (with her),” he said.
Members will return to the Assembly on Thursday for the final day of the emergency session.