This is page numbers 295 - 344 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was going.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Frederick Blake Jr, Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Ms. Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Lafferty, Hon. Katrina Nokleby, Mr. Norn, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Diane Thom, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

The Government House Leader is raising a point of order.

Point of Order
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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order under Rule 24 (h), making allegations against another Member, a House Officer, a witness, or a member of the public; (i) imputes false or hidden motives to another Member; (j) charges another Member with uttering a deliberate falsehood; and/or (k) uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder. I have waited until today to raise this point of order because I wanted to review Hansard.

Yesterday, during Members' Statements, the Member for Monfwi said while speaking of the Honourable Premier, and I quote from page 14 of the unedited Hansard from Wednesday, February 26, 2020:

"Mr. Speaker, the Premier has confused her powers under the Public Service Act with the Minister of Education's powers under the Aurora College Act. In her confusion, I believe she has misled this House and overstepped her authority, in fact breaking the law."

On the same page, the Member also said, and I quote:

"If these statutory realities aren't enough to convince the Premier of the errors of her ways, the Aurora College Act offers one other bit of guidance that should have told her she was exceeding her powers. For added clarity, section 19(3) of the Aurora College Act states that, for greater certainty, the Minister's authority to appoint the president "operates notwithstanding the Public Service Act."

And finally, on the same page, the Member stated, and I quote:

"It should be troubling to this House that the Premier would play so free and easy with something as sanctified as the duly enacted statutes of this House. It makes one wonder where else she might choose to exceed her authority as a Premier. I believe her misconduct warrants an apology to this House and a pledge to us that this will never happen again. Masi, Mr. Speaker."

Additionally, during Question Period, the Member for Monfwi stated at page 31:

"Section 19(3) of the Aurora College Act, which is a law that we follow, "for greater certainty," the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment's authority to appoint and hence terminate the president of Aurora College "operates notwithstanding the Public Service Act."

The Member further stated, and I quote:

"Will Premier Cochrane apologize to this House for overstepping her authority in terminating the Aurora College president?"

And finally, and I quote:

"Masi, Mr. Speaker. Since I am not getting the answer the public is expecting, at a later time, I am tabling a document that is legal advice that I received and let the public decide on this. Masi, Mr. Speaker."

Mr. Speaker, the Member then tabled document 42-19(2): A Legal Opinion from the Deputy Law Clerk regarding the "Legal Authority to terminate the appointment of the Aurora College President."

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the Member's words and actions in this Chamber yesterday seriously violate the rules of order and decorum in this House in a variety of ways and I will attempt to separate them and express my concerns.

1. Accusations against another Member/Abusive or Insulting Language Likely to Create Disorder (Rule 24(h) and (k)):

Firstly, Mr. Speaker, the Member has made serious allegations against another Member of this House. The Member has alleged that the Honourable Premier overstepped her authority, misled the House and broke the law. These are very serious allegations Mr. Speaker. The effect of the Member's words create doubt about the integrity of the Premier and appear to reflect an intent to discredit the Premier in the minds of the public. The effect of this is that the Member has created disorder in this House.

Mr. Speaker, the Member has suggested that the Premier broke the law, and has further suggested that the public should consider that the Honourable Premier is capable of further abuses of authority. Such allegations and suggestions could easily contribute to the public perception that unlawful activities are actually, or at least likely, taking place.

These allegations are serious, Mr. Speaker. Public confidence in good governance is essential. We must take these allegations very seriously as a government.

The Premier, Members of the Executive Council, and, in fact, all Members of this Legislative Assembly are required to operate within the confines of the law.

In addition, our Members are bound by a Code of Ethics that they have agreed to follow.

Mr. Speaker, the remarks from the Member for Monfwi seem to suggest a deep mistrust of government and specifically the Premier that I don't believe are helpful in advancing the business of the Assembly or maintaining a positive working relationship in this House. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the Member's remarks are so serious that they are likely to create disorder in the House.

Maintaining a positive working relationship in this House is critical to the success for the operation of a consensus government. In fact, Mr. Speaker, our own Guiding Principles of Consensus Government in the NWT state that:

"As with all parliamentary systems of government, a healthy level of tension must exist between Cabinet and Regular Members. While the ultimate goal of the Regular Members is not to defeat or discredit Cabinet, it is their job responsibility to review and monitor the leadership and direction of Cabinet and hold it to account."

Mr. Speaker, the Member's accusations against the Premier crossed the line. The Member for Monfwi went well beyond merely holding the Premier to account and instead, it appears as though the remarks were intended to discredit the Premier in the eyes of the public. Mr. Speaker, I believe the Member's remarks used unparliamentary language and violate the established rules and practices of this Assembly.

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, in dealing with unparliamentary language, it is not just the words that matter. In the second edition of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2009, it is noted at page 619 that the tone, manner, and intention of the Member speaking and whether the remarks create disorder in the Chamber also matter.

I believe that anyone listening to the Member's statement and questions yesterday would conclude that he was accusing the Premier of misleading the House and breaking the law. Such allegations create disorder, are un-parliamentary and a violation of the Rules of this Assembly.

2. Imputing False Motives (Rule 24(i))

Mr. Speaker, the Member for Monfwi also implied that there is a likely risk that the Premier would ignore the laws of this territory and intentionally exceed her authority in other circumstances as well. By stating that the Premier would "play free and easy with something as sanctified as the duly enacted statutes of this House" and that "it makes one wonder where else she might choose to exceed her authority as a Premier" implies that the Premier may have false or improper motives in executing her authority under the law.

Again, Mr. Speaker, this crossed a line. Such language is not in the spirit of holding the government to account. Rather, it is an attempt to discredit a fellow Member. It is against the rules of practice of this Assembly. It is unparliamentary and contravenes the guiding principles of consensus government.

3. Suggesting the existence of legal support proving the Premier broke the law (Rule 24(h))
Mr. Speaker, during Question Period the Member for Monfwi stated that "Section 19(3) of the Aurora College Act states that, 'for greater certainty,' the Minister's authority to appoint the president 'operates notwithstanding the Public Service Act.'" The Member also continued, stating "Section 19(3) of the Aurora College Act, which is a law that we follow, 'for greater certainty,' the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment's authority to appoint and hence terminate the president of Aurora College 'operates notwithstanding the Public Service Act.'"

Further, the Member for Monfwi stated that, "Since I am not getting the answer the public is expecting, at a later time, I am be tabling a document that is legal advice that I received and let the public decide on this."

Mr. Speaker, I believe the Member's comments in this regard suggest a likelihood that the Member had legal authority holding that the Premier broke the law. Mr. Speaker, this is inaccurate. The document tabled by the Member is a legal opinion. It is not legal authority. The tabling of legal opinions are exceptionally rare. The document tabled offers consideration of who has the authority to terminate an appointment. It does not fully consider who has the authority to terminate an employment relationship, which is a critical distinction.

I believe the Member for Monfwi's comments in this regard were inappropriate and unparliamentary.

Therefore, based on all of the evidence above, Mr. Speaker, I respectfully suggest that the Member be directed to withdraw his remarks made during Members' Statements and question period and apologize to this House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Government House Leader. I will now allow comments on this point of order. Member for Monfwi. To the point of order, first, and then we will deal with the point of privilege. We will allow debate on the point of order, and then once we conclude that will be the point of privilege. Member for Monfwi.

Point of Order
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Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Masi, Mr. Speaker. [Translation] Today, we are talking about something very important regarding these regulations. We have a big issue in front of us. When we talk about legislation, it is the law that we follow by. This is the law we follow, but when we take a look at this, when we say Aurora College Act, it looks like we did not follow the rules. Section 19(1), it states that the Minister is supposed to speak to the board first, and they were supposed to make that decision. That was the process, although I don't know all the evidence of this, but that is the question I questioned.

I had a legal opinion regarding the Legislative Assembly. That is what was given to me. When I received this statement, that is what I made a statement on regarding Aurora College president: who was the one to make that decision? In my opinion, it is supposed to be the Minister's right, and the associate deputy minister is a separate issue. It may be up to the Premier regarding that position, but the president has its own regulation. It is the 19 Members here that we make a statement on that. We want everyone to know. I understand this is a big issue now. It is something very important in front of us, and now we have to make a decision on this to take a look at all the whole process of what happened. I want to get to the bottom of it.

There are a lot of people in the Northwest Territories, 33 communities in the Northwest Territories. There are approximately 40,000 members. We like to hear what people think. We know. We want to be accountable and transparent to all of the membership. That is how this government is supposed to work. We are supposed to be accountable to each, the people of the Northwest Territories. If we have an issue, we try to resolve it as soon as possible. We talk about transparency, as well. We want everything to be open. Sometimes, it is not like that.

Mr. Speaker, my statement is recorded here, and also it is the questions that are coming from the communities. The people are the ones who elect us to be here, to be their representative, to speak on their behalf. We have a Premier and their Cabinet. I am not trying to say that they are not doing their job, but there is a process that is not quite accurate. I feel that something is not quite right. For me, if everything went the way it is supposed to go, following all these regulations, I would have no problem, but the way I see it, there are some things that are not quite right.

Mr. Speaker, it will be up to you now to make a decision on this point of order. We make big decisions here in this House to represent our membership, and we want to make sure that we represent them properly and to make a good decision for our people. We are trying to make the best decision and make it right. This is not the only thing that happened. There are other things that happens, as well, but when I take a look at this, I don't want anything like this to happen again. It is the reason why I am saying this, to prevent it for the future.

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot has been said. I speak for my people. I cannot sit back and say nothing about it. I want the truth to come out. I also will table a document, and I will make a statement on it, but today, I was not expecting this point of order. They did not tell us this was going to happen. I was going to table a document, and I did let the Premier know, notify her that I was going to do this. Sometimes, things are done without our knowledge, and we were not notified. I don't agree with that. We need to have respect for each other, and it seems like it is not happening now.

Mr. Speaker, that will be my statement. I have said a lot of things. My words are recorded, as well. People are concerned about this. There are a lot of people who don't agree with this. I don't know this president personally; maybe I met him once or twice. I am not really supporting what they have done to him, but what I am trying to make a point of is the whole process of hiring and firing. These are the laws that we are supposed to follow. That is what I am speaking on, on this. This is the opinion of the lawyer. I have said previously, I did make a statement on this, and I would like to tell you again that there are a lot of people out there who are worried about this. In this House, when we make decisions, we need to follow process, so it will be up to you to make a final decision. Masi, Mr. Speaker. [End of translation]

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Monfwi. I will open up the floor to debate on the point of order. Minister of Justice.

Point of Order
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Caroline Wawzonek Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The laws in the Northwest Territories aren't one above another. They are meant to work as a whole. They are meant to work as a unit. They are meant to be read together, Mr. Speaker, and they are meant to work together, which is not to say that they don't necessarily sometimes come into conflict one with another and that we are asked to interpret them in order to then back away to read them in concert one with another. Laws about jurisdiction, any jurisdiction in Canada, are meant to be interpreted in a way that they are consistent one with another. Rules of statutory interpretation help guide that exercise. They help provide us the ground rules around which we can interpret what sometimes seem like conflicting pieces of legislation, sometimes conflicting parts within legislation. Lawyers are often called upon to apply those rules and to try to provide opinions that, in fact, can help us understand what conflicting provisions mean, what specific provisions mean, and can help understand how to apply those different provisions depending on the circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, a legal opinion is just that. It is an opinion, at the end of the day, based on one's professional judgment and best efforts, but it is still just an opinion. The final authority on any legal interpretation is done by the judiciary; it is done by the judicial branch of government, not by the executive or the legislative, and not by any lawyer. That is part of the division of responsibilities that we have. One of the examples of a piece of legislation, or parts within a legislation, that has perhaps led to quite a bit of challenge within the House, Mr. Speaker, in fact, is, of course, the Public Service Act and the Aurora College Act, and specific provisions around the hiring of the president.

These two acts deal with two very different things. The Public Service Act, at its core, of course deals with the provisions around hiring and governance of the public service. More specifically, Section 16.1 of the Public Service Act confers an exclusive authority on the Premier to make a recommendation for the appointment of all deputy minister roles. In other words, Mr. Speaker, it is only the Premier who can hire or terminate someone within a role of a deputy minister.

Meanwhile, Mr. Speaker, the Aurora College Act, under Section 19, confers on the Minister of Education an authority, with consultation of the board, to appoint a president of the Aurora College. Section 2 makes the president of the Aurora College a public servant. That is important, Mr. Speaker, because most employees of the Aurora College are not public servants. Then Section 19(3) says that this happens notwithstanding what is in the Public Service Act, which makes some sense, Mr. Speaker, because, of course, as I have said earlier, it is the Public Service Act generally that would govern creating any kind of employment relationship within the public service. Whereas, in this case, someone who is the president becomes a public servant.

However, Mr. Speaker, someone who becomes a public servant by appointment as president does not become a deputy minister. The deputy minister authority, again, that lies exclusively on the recommendation of the Premier. So, unfortunately -- "unfortunately" is maybe a bit too strong. The reality is that you have sort of two different things happening, Mr. Speaker. You have deputy ministers being appointed under the exclusive recommendation of the Premier, and meanwhile, Mr. Speaker, you have the president of the Aurora College being appointed under the Aurora College Act. The president becomes a member of the public service, but not every public servant is a deputy minister, and certainly not every deputy minister becomes the president of Aurora College.

Unfortunately in this case, Mr. Speaker, this has certainly given rise to a fair bit of confusion, perhaps, and uncertainty, and led to a lot of attempts to explain in this House what has occurred when someone who was holding those two dual roles has ultimately been terminated, and whether, in fact, the Premier had the authority to terminate someone in the role of a deputy minister.

Mr. Speaker, in my view, someone who is in the role of a deputy minister can only be terminated by the Premier, which is separate and apart from the fact that someone who happens to hold a statutory appointment as president of Aurora College, that statutory appointment would be terminated by the Minister responsible; but it doesn't change or impede or take away from the authority of the Premier to terminate a deputy minister, or to make the recommendation, rather, to terminate a deputy minister. Because, again, that is the only role that has that authority to make that judgment to do that thing, and that is exactly what the Premier had done in this case and has described having done in this case. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister of Justice. Colleagues, we are dealing with a point of order raised by the Government House Leader. We are not debating who had the authority to dismiss whom. Did the Member for Monfwi breach our rules in his comments yesterday? That is what we are debating at the moment, so it is still open. There are no further comments? Member for Nunakput.

Point of Order
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Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When we come and represent our people on the floor of the House, we are passionate about what we are doing here. We want to be here to help. On the point of order, I think that the "working together" part of the House, I mean, we could bring up anything we want on the floor, anything. It is up to the Member who wanted to bring something forward who is passionate about it and wanting to seek clarity. That is all that I think that was. Working together, it is in black and white, Mr. Speaker. I really think that this House, all the Members, have to reflect why we are here and make sure that we are here for the right reason. For myself, I really think that my colleague Mr. Lafferty has compassion for doing his job and he is good at what he does. I think that we have to take a step back and try to get through this, because we have another four weeks, and try to make the best of what we have while we are sitting here and not wasting House time. It is in black and white on what happened, and I leave that up to your discretion, Mr. Speaker. This is your House. Thank you.

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Any other debate? Member for Frame Lake.

Point of Order
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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I hadn't actually thought I would get up and say anything. I know this is the way that the rules work, but I just feel that I am at a distinct disadvantage, not having had notice of the point of order before we got into the House today or just very shortly before we got into the House.

My honourable friends on the other side have cited a number of legal sections of the acts and so on, so I really feel at a disadvantage in terms of being able to examine the record here and, perhaps, offer some advice to you.

I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you do go back and carefully review what was said in the House over this sitting to see what the Premier said about the removal of the individual, and in what capacity she was acting, what capacity the Minister was acting, and so on. I do think that there is a point of public interest in this, and I have every confidence that you will review the record very carefully, but I would prefer that we have more notice on this side of the House on these sort of matters so that we can actually offer some informed advice to you in carrying our your role. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Frame Lake. Any other debate? Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Point of Order
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Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My thoughts on this: I am echoing what Member from Frame Lake said about getting notice for the point of order. I think we as Members, when we first got to the House, we are going to work together. I think we have got to continue to do that and not to surprise each other because we give that courtesy across the other side, and we expect the same thing in return. We did not get that today. That is not right.

On that note, about this whole issue, for me, personally, it wasn't too much on my radar, but the more I thought about it, I have four tenets, and I kind of have a couple of other things that I go by when something comes across my desk. One, is it legal? Two, is it practical? Three, is it ethical? Four, is it affordable? Anytime I see a document come across my desk, I look at that, and I think we should all look at that in the same light. Another thing I like to look at is: one, is it beneficial for my constituents? Most importantly, is it beneficial for the territories? We should think about that when we go about looking at this issue. That is what I would like to say about this, and I think we should try to be as objective as possible and, again, work with each other and remember who we are serving. Mahsi cho.

Point of Order
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The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr) Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. Any further debate on the point of order? Seeing none. Thank you. I will take the point of order on advisement, and I will get back to the House on the ruling as soon as possible. Thank you. Member for Monfwi.