Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, seen in legislative assembly last fall, was an early voice calling for an eviction freeze.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo
How does a candidate owing a significant amount of money to a Crown corporation end up elected to the NWT’s legislative assembly? And is that a conflict of interest that was somehow overlooked?
Those questions, asked in relation to Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, were drowned out amid the chatter of confusion over the attempt to unseat Infrastructure Minister Katrina Nokleby late last month.
NNSL Media asked the GNWT how much of Simpson’s debt had been collected to date and was told by Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment spokesperson Drew Williams that such information is confidential.
Mixed bag of election laws
Of the laws that apply to elections in the NWT, only one set has anything to say about indebtedness.
Community government and municipal elections in the NWT are governed by the Local Authorities Election Act, which can render potential candidates ineligible from running for office if they have a certain amount of debt.
Section 20 of the Act states that individuals are ineligible to run as candidates if they’re indebted by to a municipal corporation or have a controlling interest in a private or public corporation that is indebted to the municipal corporation by more than $500 for 90 days.
The Elections and Plebiscites Act and its Section 79 applies to territorial elections but it says nothing about indebtedness.
And on the federal level, of the conditions candidates must meet under the Canada Elections Act to run for office, being in the financial black isn’t one of them.
“As per the list of ineligibilities under Section 65 of the Act—there is no prohibition against people with personal or business debts (of any amount, to any type of creditor) from being a candidate. The Act doesn’t exclude people from running based on how much money they have or owe,” said Election Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier.
No conflict of interest for now
At the moment debt isn’t a legal or legislative barrier for prospective candidates, but it could be in the future.
“(Territorial elections laws) don’t preclude (someone like Simpson) from being an eligible candidate in elections,” said Nicole Latour, chief electoral officer with Elections NWT, the independent public agency responsible for the administration of territorial elections, by-elections, and plebiscites.
Based on feedback from the public, Latour addressed the issue of candidate indebtedness in her Report on the Administration of the 2019 Territorial General Election, published on Feb. 25, 2020 and tabled in the Legislative Assembly on May 28.
“A large number of people feel that if there is legislation for the municipal level that it should also apply at the territorial level. ‘How can you be discounted as eligible for mayor or council but that doesn’t apply to individuals who want to run as MLA?’ I felt compelled to put (that issue) forward for legislators based on public input,” Latour said.
According to her report, Latour recommends the eligibility rules in the Elections and Plebiscites Act be amended to include “aspects of indebtedness included in section 20 of the Local Authorities Election Act” with the rationale that “many concerns from all election stakeholders were brought forward with the lack of alignment in legislation that exist for candidate eligibility with respect to indebtedness to the GNWT.”
“‘Conflict of interest’ keeps coming up,” she said. “‘How can someone with a situation similar to Simpson’s properly represent us?’ The question put to me was, ‘How did you let him run?’ My job is to administer to act as it’s written. In accordance with the (Elections and Plebiscites Act) he’s eligible. In order for him not to be the law would have to be rewritten.
“My recommendation is that (the public) might wish to examine the Local Authorities Act and decide whether they need to incorporate similar legislation in the Elections and Plebiscites Act.”
Latour is scheduled to answer questions about her report at the GNWT’s Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures on Wednesday, June 10.
Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...
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