Relations continue to deteriorate in the NWT legislature
The health minister’s decision to terminate a speech by the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA was one of several flashpoints in the legislature as rocky relations between some MLAs continue.
Julie Green called out “nay” when Richard Edjericon asked if he could have more time to finish his member’s statement, an opening statement to which MLAs are entitled each day.
Legislature rules dictate that once a member’s statement has last for two and a half minutes, they must ask for unanimous consent from other MLAs to carry on speaking.
Territorial politicians break that limit daily: multiple times on each sitting day at the legislature, MLAs ask their colleagues for consent to finish a statement when they overrun slightly. It is (almost) unheard-of for an MLA to receive a “nay” when asking to finish their statement.
But only one nay is enough. And on Thursday, seeking permission to finish a statement about the territorial government’s chances of completing all the items on its mandate, Edjericon heard Green declare: “Nay.” That was the end of his time.
Edjericon initially told the CBC he wanted the minister’s resignation, saying he found Green’s action offensive. The broadcaster reported he later “walked those comments back.”
In the legislature, Edjericon said he was “taken aback.”
Green, by email, told Cabin Radio on Friday that the two-and-a-half-minute rule “is in place to ensure that there is an equitable amount of time for each member to make a statement.”
She said Edjericon is a repeat offender. “MLA Edjericon is not the only member who has gone over this week, but his ‘overage’ is most frequent and longest,” Green wrote, explaining why she had decided to cut his latest statement off at the appointed limit.
How often do MLAs ask for more time?
Hansard, the written record of everything said in the legislature, shows that regular MLAs reached the 2.5-minute limit 12 times in the past week alone.
Of those, four were statements by Edjericon, three involved Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, two each came from Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby and Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, and one was Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson.
Green, when she was a regular MLA between 2015 and 2020, sought unanimous consent to conclude a longer-than-allowed member’s statement on at least 70 occasions, according to Hansard.
There have been 32 sitting days at the legislature since Edjericon replaced Steve Norn as the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA in a January by-election. In those 32 sitting days, Hansard records he has asked for consent to finish a statement six times – all from the past six days. In his opening days as an MLA earlier this year, Edjericon rarely spoke.
In Green’s first 32 sitting days as a regular MLA, in 2015 and 2016, Hansard records she asked for unanimous consent to finish a member’s statement 18 times.
“I have been nayed myself,” Green said by email on Friday, though it was difficult to immediately find a member’s statement or minister’s statement delivered by Green where Hansard records that another MLA nayed her request to finish speaking.
After this article was first published, we found one: unanimous consent was denied to Green when trying to finish a statement on a disabilities action plan on November 4, 2016. The identity of the person who denied her the right to finish is not recorded.
Despite being denied the first time, Green used her next speaking opportunity – a few minutes later – to ask to go back and finish her statement, which nobody opposed, so her statement that day was eventually delivered in full.
“The difference between my experience and yesterday’s is that I provided MLA Edjericon with an explanation why I nayed him,” Green said on Friday.
‘I’m not going to settle down’
While an MLA’s one-word denial of another MLA’s request to keep speaking may seem trivial, even the fact of it occurring is a sign of the strain on relations between some territorial politicians with a year till the next election.
Edjericon was suspended from the legislature for a day in June after Green complained that he had broken the rules of debate by accusing the health minister of “gaslighting” patients, attempting to silence criticism, and presiding over “disastrous” treatment. Green said Edjericon’s comments were “over the line.”
That isn’t the only deteriorating relationship.
Green also routinely spars in the legislature with Nokleby. The Great Slave MLA has in the past week made a range of remarks and allegations regarding ministers Green and Chinna.
Speaking about the child and youth care counsellor program, Nokleby said she would send written questions to the Department of Health and Social Services rather than asking them of Green. “Given this minister’s wont to always shoot the messenger, I am not interested in giving her a forum any longer,” Nokleby told colleagues.
Nokleby has also declined to give advance notice of some questions in the legislature, a convention usually – but not always – followed so that ministers are equipped with the relevant information to provide an answer of substance.
“I’ve stopped trying to make them actually look good and know their portfolios when they don’t, so I don’t provide questions ahead of time any more,” Nokleby said last week during a blistering exchange with housing minister Paulie Chinna on the subject of homelessness.
“And I’d like to say, I’m not going to ‘settle down’ as the minister asked me to after the last round of questions,” she added.
Nokleby this week went further, implicating Chinna in what she called “cronyism and corruption” at the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Speaking about the contracting of work on the Prohibition Creek access road, Nokleby said the territorial government had handed a job worth millions of dollars to “a private company in Norman Wells … that supported a member of cabinet during the election, at least according to what the people from the Sahtu have been telling me since I took office.”
Nokleby continued: “In an email dated October 6, I was informed by Minister Archie that the Minister of Housing has endorsed this private business in a written letter submitted with their ask. I will be tabling that email later today, Mr Speaker. This is unacceptable.”
By email, Premier Caroline Cochrane said Nokleby had made “serious allegations” against Chinna that the premier said were unfounded.
Cochrane wrote that the process of awarding a contract directly to a company involves, under GNWT rules, an assessment of whether the proposed contract has “the support of any regular Members of the Legislative Assembly or Members of the Legislative Assembly representing the community or communities in which the proposed contract would be carried out.”
“To exclude the views of MLAs who also happen to be ministers would be detrimental to the fair consideration of such proposals, and letters of support have often been included in assessments made under the policy. I have been assured there has been no improper consideration or favour given related to this contract,” Cochrane wrote.
“It is also an important distinction to make that this is not a contract awarded under the portfolio of Minister Paulie Chinna. If someone has information that indicates illegal or unethical activity in government I encourage them to report this to the RCMP or the integrity commissioner so the matter can be formally investigated. At this time, I’m not aware of any matters like this.”