The Speaker (Hon. Frederick Blake Jr)
Frederick Blake Jr.
Good afternoon, Members. On February 27, 2020, the Member for Monfwi raised a point of privilege. The point of privilege raised was that the Premier acted beyond her authority when terminating the appointment of the president of Aurora College. It was suggested that the Premier had breached the collective privileges of this House and acted against the dignity and authority of this Assembly as per Rule 20. The Member also stated that the Premier obstructed the ability of this Legislature in carrying out its lawmaking functions.
As Speaker, I must determine two matters:
- first, whether a matter of privilege has been raised at the earliest opportunity and whether there has been a prima facie breach of privilege, in other words that, at first glance, the matter appears to be a breach of privilege and warrants immediate consideration by the House; and
- second, the extent to which the matter has infringed upon any Member's ability to perform their duties or appears to be a contempt against the dignity of the House.
First, I will consider whether the point of privilege was raised at the earliest opportunity.
The Member received a legal opinion on or about February 12, 2020. The Member was absent from the House on February 13. The House was adjourned until February 25. The Member questioned the Premier on February 26, 2020, and tabled the legal opinion that day. The Member raised the point of privilege on February 27, 2020, after the Member reviewed the Premier's responses to the Member's oral questions in Hansard from February 26, 2020. As a result, I am comfortable that the Member raised it at the earliest opportunity.
Second, I will determine whether a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
As Speaker, it is not my place to determine whether a law has been broken. The Minister of Justice correctly pointed this out when she spoke to the point of order raised that same day. Both the Member and the Premier rely on differing legal opinions. Unless a ruling has been made in a court of law, neither opinion can be considered "right," "wrong," or "misleading."
It is almost impossible to conclude that a Member has deliberately misled the House unless a Member provides completely different responses to the exact same question. That is not what happened in this case.
The Premier has remained consistent in her responses to oral questions on this issue. On February 10, 2020, the Member for Kam Lake questioned the Premier about her ability to terminate the president. The Premier said, quote, "While the associate deputy minister may be statutory appointed to the position of president under the Aurora College Act, the employment relationship of deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers is clearly with me as Premier, and it remains in my sole purview to terminate the employment of an associate deputy minister across departments," end of quote.
Shortly after, the Member for Monfwi asked a similar question of the Premier. The Premier responded, quote, "Again, I think it might be a communications issue. At no time have I broken the law. In fact, we have had more legal opinions on this than not. The Premier is responsible for hiring and terminating associate deputy ministers and deputy ministers. Appointments to positions are not contingent on the Minister having to hire or terminate. There are many statutory positions that the Minister is not responsible for hiring. In fact, very few positions can a Minister hire for. We are blending in two things that should not be blended," end of quote.
There were several other occasions where Members asked oral questions to the Premier, on the authority of the Premier to dismiss the president of Aurora College. The Premier's responses were consistent.
In conclusion, there is a clear difference of legal opinions between the Member for Monfwi and the Premier on their interpretation of the Aurora College Act. Although frustrations mounted on this particular subject, this difference of opinion does not prevent Members from fulfilling their parliamentary functions. Nor does such a disagreement breach the collective privileges of the House. Therefore, I find it is not a prima facie breach of privilege, and the point of privilege is dismissed.
Members, a point of privilege is a serious matter. Alleging that a Member of this House misled the Chamber or is breaking the law is a serious escalation that should be reserved for the most serious circumstances. I encourage Members to exercise caution when doing so.
I will now deal with the point of order raised by the Government House Leader on the same day regarding comments made by the Member for Monfwi.
The Government House Leader suggested that comments by the Member for Monfwi seriously violated the rules of order and decorum in this House. It was suggested by the Member that the Premier had "misled the House," "overstepped her authority," "broke the law," "played free and easy" with the laws passed by this House. The Government House Leader feels that these comments went beyond the standards of acceptable debate in this House.
The Government House Leader believes the Member violated Rule 24(h), (i), (j), and (k). He also believes the Member for Monfwi's comments were "inappropriate and unparliamentary."
Members, it is my duty to maintain order and decorum and to decide questions of order. Therefore, when a point of order is raised I must:
- State the rule in question.
- Decide whether the point of order was raised at the earliest opportunity, and whether the conduct violates the rule in question. This is usually decided on a case-by-case basis.
The Second Edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2009, page 619, states, quote, "In dealing with unparliamentary language, the Speaker takes into account the tone, manner, and intention of the Member speaking; the person to whom the words at issue were directed; the degree of provocation; and most importantly, whether or not the remarks created disorder in the Chamber."
I have reviewed the comments made by the Member for Monfwi in the House and Rule 24, which reads, "In debate, a Member will be called to order by the Speaker if the Member:
- makes allegations against another Member, a House officer, a witness, or a Member of the public;
- imputes false or hidden motives to another Member;
- charges another Member with uttering a deliberate falsehood;
- uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder."
Members, the Government House Leader raised the point of order the next day. He chose to wait to review Hansard before calling the point of order. I find this to be reasonable and not an unnecessary delay.
On the point of order, I have reviewed the comments made by the Member for Monfwi with respect to the tone, manner, intention in which he made them. I find they did cross the line and are contrary to Rule 24(h), (i), (j), and (k).
Members, please remember that the Rules of the Legislative Assembly are sanctioned by us. As Speaker, it is my responsibility to make sure that they are followed in this House. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously and so should you.
Respect has to be exercised by both sides of the House. Unkind or inflammatory comments made by a Member when addressing another Member are not necessary, and do not encourage a respectful, balanced discussion.
As Members, you have to work with one another in the best interest of all the people of the Northwest Territories.
We are a consensus system of government and have our own standards, standards we are proud of and that we'd like to uphold. It's been said before, but I will say it again, while other legislatures may allow this style of debate, we find it unacceptable. I think most of the people we represent would agree.
I find there is a point of order. I will now ask the Member for Monfwi to withdraw his remarks and apologize to the House. Thank you. Member for Monfwi.