Tuesday’s session in the legislative assembly was a rare baring of souls. None of the MLAs seemed happy.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby was defiant and alone. Each MLA stood to pronounce their judgment as in a Roman senate. Some praised her strengths which gained favour outside the assembly. Inside the assembly, and the offices of government, her strengths became toxic for those on the receiving end, if her colleagues are to be believed. It appears Nokleby has much to learn about picking her battles and expressing herself without jeopardizing a promising career and the faith people placed in her.
More important than the political drama was the litany of complaints by MLAs.
Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty brought up the insult to his people of having a road built on Tłı̨chǫ land as if it were any other road in Canada, despite the settled land claim, with construction contracts given out to non-Tłı̨chǫ companies.
Yellowknife Centre Julie Green spoke of a request sent to ITI asking the minister to write a letter of support to the courts for troubled Dominion Diamonds. It took months for her to get a no, a response which makes no sense. She also pointed out only nine percent of the $1 million spent to date on the Slave Geological Road project has gone to Northern companies which is why the Yellowknives Dene pulled their support.
Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn spoke of a departmental directive for vehicles and equipment belonging to the Department of Infrastructure to discontinue using Deninu Kue fuel products,with “devastating” consequences for the Fort Resolution economy.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly’s spoke of a 16-week wait to get answers on funding for small business during COVID. After many emails, he still didn’t get the answers he wanted. Of the 19 requests he made to the department on different matters:.
From the Hansard record of Wednesday’s session: “Six, or nearly one third, have yet to receive a response, with the oldest now over seven months old. Only one of the responses met the five-day target (I made it bold- BV) set out in the communications between Executive Council, Ministers, standing committee, and Regular Members’ process conventions. When I do get responses, it has taken between three and 64 days, and on average, about 17 days for the ones I do get a response on. I cannot do my job as an MLA with this minister when there are no responses or much delayed responses to my information or assistance requests.”
The blame for the above noted transgressions was laid at the feet of the disgraced minister, yet the experience of the MLAs is known by almost anyone dealing with the GNWT bureaucracy. MLAs have just confirmed the unprofessional attitudes fostered in the GNWT. It’s also the the basis of the most stinging charge Nokelby hurled – corruption – that triggered immediate and deep emotion in Premier Caroline Cochrane, whose voice cracked as she dismissed the very suggestion.
Corruption comes in many forms. Is anyone taking payoffs? Are bureaucrats acting for personal gain? There has never been any such cases reported let alone proven. The employees of the GNWT are all good people. Some do understand they serve the public and the importance of buying Northern goods and services. But who can deny the government’s goals and mandate have been corrupted, assembly after assembly, by a bureaucracy where too many individuals display indifference to the plight of the people they are there to serve?
How many GNWT staff have given up trying to make a difference because there is no leadership, no set standards of professionalism maintained, no reward for ingenuity or creative solutions? How many are suffocating in an environment where doing nothing is safer for a career than doing something? Worse, how many believe there’s nothing wrong with hiring in the south, contracting in the south, sending money south in return for clean efficiency and less bother with Northerners.
Don’t believe this type of subtle corruption stands in the way of the GNWT’s goals? Heed the words of Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, also from Hansard: “Mr. Speaker, to put the issue of revocation in perspective, when I find Indigenous people being incarcerated at disturbing rates, Indigenous children being placed in foster care at alarming rates, Indigenous people with high rates of addictions with limited support, Indigenous people without housing, Indigenous people passed up for employment opportunities, Indigenous-owned businesses being treated differently, and Indigenous graduation rates wanting, it is these issues that are central to me.”
Systemic indifference to these issues equal corruption. Ministers should spend less time defending departments and more time encouraging them to produce results that matter to Northerners.
Surely the sins of the GNWT are found in any bureaucracy. In the North, the difference is the GNWT dominates our lives; Indigenous communities most, the business community a distant but solid second.
We need our MLAs, ministers and premier to lead the GNWT out of the mire. Make their jobs important again. While you can build a bureaucracy by doing nothing, you can’t build a territory where people want to live.