Two territorial government ministers face no-confidence votes on Wednesday as the Union of Northern Workers called on members to flood the legislature in a show of solidarity.
In a brief message to members on Tuesday, the union – which is locked in a three-year collective bargaining battle with Premier Bob McLeod’s government – urged members to “fill the gallery” during Wednesday afternoon’s session, which begins at 1:30pm.
By mid-afternoon, MLAs are set to debate the futures of ministers Glen Abernethy and Wally Schumann, both of whom stand accused by some regular MLAs of ‘mishandling’ their social services and infrastructure files respectively.
A simple majority is required in either vote to see the minister in question removed.
If nine members vote in favour and nine against, Speaker Jackson Lafferty – the 19th and final member of the legislature – will be called upon to break the tie.
Canadian parliamentary precedent suggests Lafferty would be expected, in such a situation, to vote in favour of the status quo. However, that is not guaranteed.
Kieron Testart and Shane Thompson, who proposed the two motions targeting Abernethy and Schumann, alongside seconders Cory Vanthuyne and Michael Nadli, will be expected to vote in favour of each. Cabinet is almost certain to vote en-bloc against each motion.
The swing votes could be Hay River North’s RJ Simpson, Nunakput’s Herb Nakimayak, the Mackenzie Delta’s Frederick Blake Jr, and Sahtu MLA Danny McNeely.
All four opposed a similar motion to remove Justice Minister Lou Sebert from office a year ago.
At the time, Simpson said: “We can’t forget that history indicates [these] motions deepen the tension between cabinet and regular members, and undermine future prospects for consensus.
“Will revoking Minister Sebert improve government? If a regular member takes over multiple departments two years into a mandate, will that improve government more than working with the minister to improve his performance? I don’t believe it will.”
While Simpson has been increasingly belligerent in recent months toward a cabinet he sees as detached and uncooperative, there seems little difference between the situations of Abernethy and Schumann and that of Sebert.
If anything, with only one year remaining before a territorial election, Simpson’s logic as outlined above suggests he would be more inclined to retain ministers than trigger the same upheaval he sought to avoid in 2017.
Though Nakimayak opposed the removal of Sebert last year, this time he will be called upon to vote on the fate of a minister whose neck is on the block as a direct result of issues affecting Nakimayak’s riding.
Paulatuk, which Nakimayak represents, is struggling in the aftermath of the territorial government’s failure to ensure barge resupply reached the community before thick ice set in.
Nakimayak has directed a series of pointed barge-related questions at Schumann in the legislature. He may be more amenable to supporting a vote for the infrastructure minister’s removal, which could be seen locally as a sign of direct action on behalf of his riding with an election year approaching.
More than one current cabinet minister, including Abernethy, has in the past supported similar motions to have ministers tossed.
In 2009, when then-MLA Jane Groenewegen attempted to have the entire cabinet including Premier Floyd Roland removed, Abernethy – a regular MLA at the time – spoke in support of the motion.
“This motion is the only thing that I believe they would take seriously,” Abernethy said of cabinet members at the time, a statement not far removed from sentiments expressed by some regular members in the past week.
“Anything with less potential impact would be soundly ignored by the entity which is cabinet. The beast would go back to its old habits. Cabinet would go back to business as usual and continue to ignore us,” he said.
That motion failed by 10 votes to eight.
Robert C McLeod, who is now the finance minister, supported a 2006 motion as a regular MLA to remove Michael Miltenberger from his position as health minister.
That motion – driven by Miltenberger’s alleged threatening behaviour toward another MLA rather than any perceived incompetence – passed, though Miltenberger returned to cabinet upon his re-election a year later.
The potential presence of dozens of union members in the gallery, depending on the size of the response to the union’s call, adds another dimension to the mix.
While the union says it will not strike before Christmas “unless provoked,” relations between the two sides appear to be at an all-time low.
On Tuesday, Cabin Radio asked both parties if – given they both claim to be ready to talk, with no strings attached – any further talks are currently planned.
The union said no talks are scheduled. The territorial government did not respond.
It is not clear why, given the parties’ public statements, talks are not happening.