This is page numbers 1229 - 1248 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 premier.

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, Ms. Martselos, 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 1:32 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

Page 1229

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

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Item 4, returns to oral questions. Item 5, recognition of visitors in the gallery. I would just like to welcome everyone in the gallery. It is mainly media that is allowed in our Chamber at this time. I would just like to welcome you. It is always good to have people in the Chamber. Thank you. Item 6, oral questions. Item 7, written questions. Item 8, returns to written questions. Item 9, replies to Commissioner's address. Item 10, petitions. Item 11, reports of committees on the review of bills. Item 12, reports of standing and special committees. Item 13, tabling of documents. Minister responsible for the Status of Women.

Tabled Document 164-19(2): 2019-2020 Annual Report - the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories
Tabling Of Documents

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Diane Thom Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to table the following document: "2019-2020 Annual Report from the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories." Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Tabled Document 164-19(2): 2019-2020 Annual Report - the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories
Tabling Of Documents

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

Thank you, Minister. Tabling of documents. Item 14, notices of motion. Item 15, motions. Honourable Premier.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1229

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

WHEREAS pursuant to Section 61(1) of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, the Legislative Assembly recommends to the Commissioner the appointment of Members of the Executive Council;

AND WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 61(2) of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, the persons appointed hold office during the pleasure of the Legislative Assembly;

AND WHEREAS the Assembly, pursuant to these powers, has chosen the Honourable Katrina Nokleby to sit as a Member of the Executive Council;

NOW THEREFORE, I MOVE, seconded by the honourable Member for Thebacha, that this Assembly formally revoke the pleasure of the Assembly from the appointment of the honourable Katrina Nokleby as a Member of the Executive Council;

AND FURTHER, that this Assembly recommend that a new Member be chosen to be a Member of the Executive Council. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

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

Thank you, Member for Range Lake. I will now open it up for discussion, starting with the mover, seconder, and then we will open it up.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1229

Caroline Cochrane Range Lake

Mr. Speaker, the events that have caused us to be here today are unfortunate. My revoking of the Minister's portfolios, and this motion, were decisions not made lightly, but they are necessary ones. The inability to work with and have confidence in the professionalism and integrity of Minister Nokleby ultimately made the decision clear. As set out in the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, and in our Members' handbook, the Premier has the authority for the overall management and direction of the Executive branch and the responsibility to take disciplinary action with respect to the conduct of Ministers. The removal of portfolios does not circumvent the authority of the Legislative Assembly to remove membership on the Executive Council. It is about taking the steps necessary to protect the reputation, proper functioning, and management of government.

I know that the public wants to hear the rationale for my decision. While it would not be appropriate to provide information to the same extent that I have shared confidentially in Caucus, I will share some of that information at a higher level. I am trying to balance the need to provide Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public with sufficient information to provide context for my actions while also trying to respect the Minister.

When Regular Members brought the previous motion of non-confidence in the Minister, it was agreed not to proceed with the motion in exchange for commitments from the Minister to improve in specific areas and the expectation for myself, as Premier, to ensure that the commitments were fulfilled. Although Minister Nokleby has stated many times that she learned from the first non-confidence motion, she has also continually stated since then that these are not her issues, that they are either untrue, the department's fault, or mine, directly or indirectly. I have not seen the kind of self-reflection required to find improvement, and I still don't believe that Minister Nokleby is ready to accept any responsibility.

The areas of concern that determined my final decision include interactions with civil servants; interactions with myself, Cabinet colleagues, and MLAs; and the failure to manage her office. After many unsuccessful attempts to address concerns directly with Minister Nokleby repeatedly turned into an exchange where I and/or staff were subjected to a rude and disrespectful Minister, who was yelling, angry, and using vulgar language, I provided Minister Nokleby with a detailed letter that outlined my concerns and expectations. I also expressed my willingness to discuss matters further in order to find ways to improve and restore my confidence if she agreed to accept and work on the expectations. The initial reaction of the Minister to the letter and subsequent meeting was extremely inappropriate. Recognizing that the Minister lacked the necessary respect for me to provide any feedback, advice, or guidance, I also attempted to engage a former Premier to offer advice and mentorship to Minister Nokleby. That effort was also unsuccessful.

Some of the areas I raised with Minister Nokleby included concerns that she targeted staff for discipline based on unsubstantiated rumours. I emphasized the importance of following processes to ensure that people are treated fairly and avoiding acting on rumours. 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 against someone with an unequal amount of power, and also undermines the morale among the public service.

I also attempted to address the inappropriate communications experienced by myself, Ministers, and MLAs. I reinforced the clear expectations that Ministers hold themselves to high standards of professionalism and a meaningful commitment to working together. I accept that we can all get frustrated and even angry. However, the Minister's continual tantrums in meetings, walking out of meetings, lashing out at others, and a refusal to hear from colleagues are not productive or reflective of the kind of relationships that we need to effectively look after the concerns and priorities of residents.

Another key area of concern was the failure of the Minister to manage her office. This may seem like a small factor. However, failure to be responsive and be 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. The Minister's failure to respond in a timely manner can and did cause significant intergovernmental harm.

I also made clear the expectation that the Minister and her office disclose all meetings with outside parties and that she include departmental officials in all meetings to ensure transparency. Unrecorded meetings held without officials or any staff present is a significant danger to the essential trust and public confidence in the integrity of government decision-making.

During our final face-to-face meeting, Minister Nokleby again did not take any responsibility for any of her actions, blamed me for all of the problems, would not listen to any of my comments, and made an extremely inappropriate statement about a public servant, which confirmed my lack of confidence and the decision to immediately pull her portfolios.

Although I have not disclosed everything leading to my decision, at the end of the day, it is clear to me that allowing Minister Nokleby to continue to hold portfolios would significantly disrupt and frustrate our ability to do business together and make progress on the Assembly's priorities. She has not given any indication that she is sincerely willing to improve. On the contrary, she has continued to suggest that none of her failings are her fault and that responsibility for them all lies with others, including myself. I believe that keeping her as a Minister will damage not only Cabinet but will harm the Assembly, the GNWT, and ultimately, the residents we serve. I gave Minister Nokleby ample opportunity to improve. Minister Nokleby has made it clear to me that she disagrees with my judgment and does not accept the standards I set and my efforts to help her meet them. I was left with no choice except to remove her portfolios.

Mr. Speaker, there is not one single incident that resulted in this need for this action. This is a result of a pattern of behaviours that have continued despite efforts of MLAs, Ministers, and myself. This motion, while necessary, is both regrettable and distracting. We all recognize unprecedented challenges we have faced and the challenges yet to come. We owe it to the residents to have a strong, united Cabinet, and I believe all of us need to show more of a willingness to work together and stand together as a whole Assembly. I look forward to putting this issue behind us, Mr. Speaker, and instead of focusing on questions of non-confidence, putting our collective energies towards meeting the needs of the people we serve.

Mr. Speaker, I will be requesting a recorded vote on this motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

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

Thank you, Premier. To the motion. Member for Thebacha.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1230

Frieda Martselos Thebacha

Mr. Speaker, as the MLA for Thebacha, I firmly believe that seconding this motion is the correct thing to do in order to move forward. The Government of the Northwest Territories represents all the people of the North, and public outbursts that have happened have got to stop. Professionalism must take over. Serving all the people of the NWT, including the business community and Indigenous governments, must be a priority.

Mr. Speaker, I support the Premier and Cabinet with this decision. These kinds of actions are not taken lightly. I am sure they are well thought out. I know the reasons for removal, and, as a government, we have to move on, and so does the Member for Great Slave. For all the people of the NWT, including my constituents of Thebacha, I want you to know that my decision to second this motion was the correct thing to do.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories must be inclusive, and we must respect each and every person who lives in this territory. We must treat them with respect, fairness, accountability, and transparency, no matter who they are. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

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

Thank you, Member for Thebacha. To the motion. Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1230

Steve Norn Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh

Marsi cho, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, I am sure you appreciate how difficult today's motion is for many Members of this House. We are only nine months into the life of this government, and I can almost guarantee that none of our colleagues could imagine we would be considering a motion like this at this time.

When we were first elected, it was a hopeful time, enthusiasm for change and fresh ideas, and I still think we can go in that direction. I know that many people may think that we have let them down, but I am forever an optimist, and I remain committed to the strong ideals that I championed during my election last year, and I am sure my fellow MLAs feel the same way.

This moment will pass, and the future, what really matters and what we as Members choose to do, is to ensure the NWT is on the right track to recover and go stronger than ever was before.

Mr. Speaker, it would be disingenuous for me to pretend that the Member for Great Slave and I have not been involved in a personal matter that had reached the public's attention. Despite the highly personal nature of this incident, I want to ensure this House and all members of the public that my consideration of this motion is based solely on the Minister's performance in the execution of her responsibilities to this House.

I will say, however, this is 2020, Mr. Speaker, and all Northerners understand the need for a respectful workplace, where people feel safe and feel free from harassment and intimidation. In whatever workplace you work in, one should always feel safe and free from being verbally abused and insulted. Industries from across the country and throughout the world have taken steps in light of serious scandals to improve on harassment-free workplaces and better support employees who are subject to poor treatment by their colleagues and, more importantly, to those positions with power over them.

Democratic institutions like our Legislative Assembly are no stranger to these issues, and, in many cases, the pressures to politics and the very nature of our particular profession means we're often seeing worse behaviour behind closed doors in parliaments and in legislatures. We must all strive to do better, to ensure we treat each other with utmost respect and civility, and act as role models to the people who are placing their trust in us to represent them.

As I have said, Mr. Speaker, this is still a new government, but it is also a government that inherits some bad habits from previous Assemblies. One only needs to look at to how the public is reacting to this week's sitting to see what we have done. We have done a bad job in explaining our processes to our residents. That has hurt the trust people place in all of us to represent them openly and honestly, and not with the familiar in-fighting that has so defined our predecessors. I have nothing but respect for those who have served here in the past. Times have changed, and we must change with the times.

We cannot continue to govern from the shadows of confidential meetings and expect the public can understand how we come to our decisions and what factors led to those decisions. We have to let some sunlight in and be willing to trust that the public will view our work fairly. I believe it is the best way forward, and it is clearly what we are being told by the majority of our constituents. I know I have heard it all, and I know you have heard it all, as well. To make this change, it will require us to change how we do our business in this Assembly, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. When we were first elected here, people expected the most of us, to make bold decisions -- there are fresh faces here -- and to move forward. Change is good. There are quite a few, all elected here to do. I have a couple of examples here. Like, for one, we need to open up our standing committees opened to the public a little bit more, make sure there is a record of all decisions made and all documents relating to our proceedings are accessible, readable, easy to find online.

Mr. Speaker, it is so true that consensus government is very unique and a valuable institution that we are right to be proud of, but, if we don't make the kind of changes people are asking us by asking for, we risk losing it, and that's not something I want to be remembered for. I hope we can all learn and grow from this experience, and to work collaboratively to ensure our constituents are never left again waiting for answers that we can readily provide, and get to the real work that we're here elected to do. We've still got housing; we've still got jobs; we've still got an economy to worry about. I'd rather be talking to that than to dealing with these types of matters.

Mr. Speaker, I feel this context is important to our debate of this motion. This motion to revoke the Minister's appointment has become much more than a procedural matter or an accountability exercise. It is going to embody our track record as an Assembly, and we are being judged on how we handle things today. I am very proud to serve this House as a Regular Member, and we all have an important job to do. We work to both collaborate with our Cabinet colleagues and policy initiatives, legislation, and other important decisions, while also scrutinizing Ministers for their performance as leaders of this government. Does it mean we all agree? No, of course not. That would be unhealthy for our democracy. It does mean we should always try to do our best to work together for the good of the people of the Northwest Territories. It also means that there are clear issues with the government that we are not doing the best job we can. It is our job as Regular Members to call out Ministers and get them to fix the problems. We all understand it's not an easy job. Now, in the vast majority of cases during our brief life of this government, most of the Ministers have acted promptly to address these concerns, but there are exceptions. Unfortunately, the performance of the Member for Great Slave as Minister for Infrastructure and for ITI has been lacking.

Mr. Speaker, out of respect for the Minister and the seriousness of this motion, I want to provide some specific examples where I find her lacking in her abilities. Relying on broad statements of "performance" and "professionalism" I don't feel are adequate to address the public's concerns.

Mr. Speaker, I have great concerns regarding the Minster's attention to the interests of our Indigenous partners. Indigenous governments, our Indigenous partners, are woven into the fabric of modern NWT, and it is impossible to govern without understanding and respecting the unique role they play as partners to the GNWT. We have seen both the Tlicho and the Akaitcho governments condemn the inaction of the GNWT on addressing serious economic concerns related to the Minister's portfolios.

The Rae Access Road, Mr. Speaker, and the Slave Geological Province Road are both key infrastructure projects vital to our economic recovery. It goes without saying that these projects need the full participation of the Indigenous governments in question. That the Minister could not see that and defended the decision not to involve them has forced the government to backtrack significantly in these procurement deals. There is, no doubt, lasting damage to our relationship with the Tlicho and Akaitcho governments and more likely to other Indigenous governments, as well, who now look to the GNWT with skepticism, and I am hoping that we can still move in the right direction.

Mr. Speaker, another important point to make is that we must always honour our treaties and do whatever we can to ensure that Indigenous peoples are full participants in our economy. If it were not for the Premier stepping in to address the concerns of Indigenous leaders that were left unresolved by the Member for Great Slave, this situation might have grown far worse.

Mr. Speaker, the economies of small communities work differently than in regional centres and here in Yellowknife. That should be obvious, but I have seen the Minister blatantly ignore the economic realities of small communities despite Members flagging these concerns and asking for actions to resolve them. For example, in April of this year, the Minister signed off on a directive for vehicles and equipment belonging to the Department of Infrastructure to discontinue using Deninu Kue fuel products. This decision was made without consultation and had devastating consequences for the local economy of Fort Resolution.

Mr. Speaker, my constituents don't have the luxury of a robust economy like Yellowknife. Every dollar that is spent by the GNWT is a direct investment in the well-being of the community. I still firmly believe that this is a discriminatory business practice, and yet there is little to no action for a Member to address my concerns and restore prosperity to a community.

Something I have also noticed is, when other Members speak, I try to stay off our devices and listen intently. To make matters worse, it took five months to the Minister to get back to me with a response to these very serious concerns. That kind of response time is completely unacceptable and contrary to our communications convention of Cabinet and Regular Members, that state Regular Members should receive response time within five days. For a constituent worried about the future during a terrible pandemic in a rural and remote community, five months might seem like a lifetime. This was not the first time there was an unreasonable delay in the Minister's responses to my inquiries. Sadly, Mr. Speaker, it has become a regular occurrence for me and many of my colleagues.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on with further examples, but I believe I clearly provided grounds for serious concerns of the Minister's performance. Months ago, I hoped we would see improvement from the Minister, that together we could move forward and together support stronger government. It is very regrettable that this is not the case, and I have an obligation to my constituents to take action to ensure that their needs are addressed by this government in both a timely and effective manner. I do not believe that the Minister is capable of delivering on results that we so desperately need in the state of national and international emergency.

Mr. Speaker, I said earlier that I wish we were not in this place, but, nevertheless, we are. We must act according to what is best for the people that we serve. Therefore, I will be supporting this motion, and I hope we could all move forward towards a stronger government in the time that remains ahead of us.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I don't think that Minister Nokleby has anything to be ashamed of. She has a lot of accomplishments. She has a lot of supporters. I think she should hold her head high through this after it's all said and done. With that, I have nothing further to say, and I would say thank you, Mr. Speaker. Marsi cho.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1231

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

Thank you, Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. To the motion. Member for Hay River South.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

Page 1231

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is unfortunate that we are here today. However, it should not come as a surprise to any of the Regular Members or Cabinet that we have this motion before us. Our constituents elect each one of us, and in turn, it is our responsibility to elect the Premier and Cabinet. It is also our responsibility to keep each Minister accountable and remove any one of them when necessary. We also expect Cabinet to be respectful and work as a team if government is to be effective.

Mr. Speaker, a decision like this is not one that comes out of nowhere. It is not one that is taken lightly, nor is it an easy one to make. It is a decision based on a prolonged breakdown of confidence between Regular Members, Cabinet, and the Minister, and that confidence has been broken. It is now our responsibility to vote on a motion of revocation. We all had a part to play in this matter, and we must all take ownership.

This is not a new issue. This is an ongoing issue of standing at the highest level of this government. Minister Nokleby was previously offered the opportunity to address ongoing issues and limitations with respect to her role as Minister and her interaction with Regular Members. I truly believe everyone deserves that chance, and that chance was provided. The Premier was presented and agreed with the task of working through those issues with Minister Nokleby. Unfortunately, those limitations and issues could not be resolved.

Mr. Speaker, the constituents of Hay River and throughout the Northwest Territories require timely answers to their concerns and issues. This has not been happening with the Department of Infrastructure and ITI. To this end, approximate two weeks ago, I had a discussion with the Premier to confirm that, going forward, I would be directing all my questions and issues with respect to ITI and Infrastructure through her office. For me to do my job, that was the action I was required to take.

A Minister must be willing to accept some advice along with constructive criticism. It is one thing to debate that advice and criticism; it is another to be disrespectful and uncooperative to not only Members but constituents, as well. Personally, I am not about to be put in the position of having to walk on eggshells around any Minister. I was elected to represent constituents of Hay River South, and that is exactly what I intend to do. The working relationship between Cabinet Ministers must be one that is based on trust, respect, teamwork, and confidence. I believe that we, as Regular Members, put our trust in Cabinet to do what is right for all the people of the Northwest Territories. In return, our expectation is that we, including our constituents, be treated with the same level of respect and trust we instill in Cabinet Ministers.

Mr. Speaker, we saw the media grab hold of this issue. We hear past politicians weigh in with their opinion. I suppose it does sell advertising and provides previous politicians with a bit more shelf life. However, as an Indigenous person born and raised in the Northwest Territories, I am insulted that they can focus on this issue with such interest and disdain when there are more earnest issues out there.

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. This is where my energy has to be directed. Supporting the decision to remove a sitting Minister who was offered every opportunity to address shortcomings is not problematic for me.

Mr. Speaker, just to be clear, based on my observations, based on my interaction with the Minister, and based on the reasoning provided by the Premier, my position is to unequivocally support the Premier in the decision she made and support the motion before us.

If Minister Nokleby finds herself on this side of the House, I will be the first to welcome her and encourage her not to consider this a failure but as an opportunity to learn and grow while working in the best interest of her constituents and the residents of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 12-19(2): Revocation of Appointment to the Executive Council, Carried
Motions

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

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. To the motion. Member for Frame Lake.