The MLA for Monfwi was ejected from the NWT’s legislative chamber on Wednesday, a highly unusual step, after refusing to apologize and withdraw remarks aimed at Premier Caroline Cochrane.
Jackson Lafferty was ordered out of the chamber by Speaker Frederick Blake after being invited, for a second time, to acknowledge Blake’s earlier ruling that he had broken legislature rules.
Lafferty had first been asked to apologize on Tuesday but did not do so, instead lodging a complaint about the lack of a Tłı̨chǫ interpreter.
The remarks in question – made late last month – accused Cochrane of misleading the House, overstepping her authority, and breaking the law in personally ordering the termination of Aurora College president Tom Weegar’s contract in January.
Blake ruled on Tuesday the remarks had “crossed the line.”
Asked again to apologize on Wednesday, Lafferty – himself Speaker of the House from 2015 to 2019 and a former minister – replied: “It was never my intention to scandalize this House. I am sorry if my words caused the MLA discomfort.
“Truth and integrity are more important, however, than hurt feelings. Therefore, Mr Speaker, for speaking the truth, I will not apologize to this House.”
Blake then announced: “The member for Monfwi has refused to fully apologize and withdraw his remarks. Mr Lafferty, you must leave the chamber for the remainder of the day.”
The ejection of Lafferty from the chamber is understood to be the first since Robert Hawkins, then the Yellowknife Centre MLA, was ordered out in similar circumstances in February 2014.
Lafferty was to remain suspended from the House for the remainder of the day. The suspension could yet, technically, be lengthened under legislature rules.
The spectacle of an MLA being told to leave the chamber followed the insistence of virtually all members, following October’s election, that their four-year term in office would be marked by greater collaboration and less conflict.
Lafferty has now missed the last four days of action at the legislature. He was ordered out on Wednesday, walked out on Tuesday, and Hansard lists him as not present on March 4 or 5, the two previous days on which the House sat.
Colleagues back Lafferty on language
Lafferty’s ejection came after a succession of MLAs had backed their Monfwi colleague over the issue of interpretation at the legislature.
On Tuesday, having been ordered for the first time to apologize, Lafferty instead noted he had no Tłı̨chǫ interpreter and requested the House be “shut down” for the day as a result. At the time, Blake said he would deal with that issue on Wednesday and then allowed Tuesday’s sitting to proceed. Lafferty subsequently left the building.
A day later, MLAs lined up at the start of Wednesday’s sitting to say they supported their Monfwi colleague’s call for the House to be suspended if appropriate interpretation is not available.
Rocky Simpson, the Hay River South MLA, said with hindsight he should have walked out alongside Lafferty when proceedings continued as normal.
Blake decided there had been, to use the legislature’s terms, a breach of privilege – in a sense finding against his own decision, a day earlier, to let the sitting go ahead despite Lafferty’s protest.
The issue of how to handle the same circumstances in future will now be sent to a committee of MLAs for discussion and a recommendation, due within 120 days.
“I will apologize only when I’m wrong,” Lafferty said when asked to talk about the issue of language on Wednesday, prior to his being ordered out. He repeatedly, and pointedly, took time to issue apologies to all NWT residents for any similar trouble they had encountered.
“I apologize to all those who have ever … been unable to express themselves in their own language,” Lafferty said in Tłı̨chǫ.
“Yesterday, for the first time,” he added, switching to English, “I felt muzzled.”
Blake said the legislature had received less than an hour’s notice on Tuesday that its Tłı̨chǫ interpreter would be unavailable through illness.
Lafferty’s language complaint was publicly supported by MLAs Caitlin Cleveland, Steve Norn, Kevin O’Reilly, Frieda Martselos, Rocky Simpson, Lesa Semmler, Julie Green, Jackie Jacobson, and Rylund Johnson.