A veteran Yellowknife city councillor used Facebook to question why MLAs could not have put Tuesday’s unusually short sitting at the legislature to better use.
MLAs were called back for a four-day emergency sitting this week with a view to debating the removal of Katrina Nokleby, who has lost the premier’s confidence, from cabinet.
However, on Monday Nokleby rejected the premier’s attempt to fast-track the debate past the normal two-day wait, meaning the debate can’t happen until Wednesday and leaving Tuesday’s agenda bizarrely blank.
As a result, MLAs were compelled to meet on Tuesday but had virtually nothing to say, other than the tabling of one document by the housing minister. The entire day’s businesses lasted a little over four and a half minutes.
The odd circumstances followed a Yellowknife city council meeting the previous night during which the city fire division’s plan to end services for Ingraham Trail residents was discussed.
The fire division says answering calls on the trail – virtually all of which is well outside the municipal boundary – ties up resources, loses money, and could endanger residents in the city.
Residents of the trail, however, say no alternative exists and their homes will be at unacceptable risk without the fire division’s coverage.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson spoke at Monday’s council meeting to side with residents.
“I think it is a very much-needed service, and I think the best economic argument is that the City of Yellowknife provide that service,” Johnson said.
City councillor Niels Konge took exception to Johnson’s remarks, stating the problem of how to keep trail residents safe was for the territorial government to solve.
‘I’ll be dead before it happens’
On Tuesday, following the four-minute spectacle at the legislature, Konge renewed his questioning of Johnson.
Sharing a Facebook post by former politician Kieron Testart that criticized regular MLAs for not using the time to ask questions of ministers, Konge wrote: “Hey Rylund Johnson, why didn’t you ask any questions about fire services? Just hoping the city will continue to provide GNWT services?”
Johnson, whose electoral district includes the Ingraham Trail, responded: “This session was put together on a Friday to start on a Monday. Session takes a lot of resources out of departments and requires senior management to be tuned in.
“If we decided to run question period it would have made staff work overtime to prepare briefing binders on a weekend. There was nothing stopping any of us from standing up during question period other than many of us felt it would have been unfair to public servants.
“I’m not sure grilling Paulie Chinna [the minister responsible for territory-wide fire services] during question period would have helped that issue right now, as I am still optimistic we can work with city council productively.”
Konge dismissed that answer.
“It’s a GNWT issue that it sounds like you want to offload,” the councillor wrote in reply.
“The City of Yellowknife has many things it would like to work with the GNWT on, like land transfer. But at the pace you guys move, I’ll be dead before it happens.
“And you’re wanting the city to move quickly. How is this reasonable? How about the GNWT starts moving quickly on issues that affect our residents?”
He later wrote of the territory’s 19 MLAs: “The entire crew is looking pretty incompetent right now.”
The emergency sitting is set to continue for two more days, though the likelihood of anything of substance being dealt with beyond Nokleby’s future is slim.
Wednesday afternoon is set to feature a debate on Nokleby’s removal from cabinet followed by a vote on the matter.
If the premier is successful in removing Nokleby, Thursday is likely to be the day on which MLAs vote secretly to elect her successor, who will become a new minister.
At that point, Premier Caroline Cochrane would be expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle in order to assign the new minister their portfolios – which may or may not be the same as the industry and infrastructure portfolios possessed by Nokleby.
Johnson criticizes process
Meanwhile, Johnson later on Tuesday posted separately to Facebook to voice criticism of the manner in which Nokleby’s apparent exit has been handled.
“It’s clear the lack of transparency has caused a lot of grief for my constituents,” he wrote, echoing the sentiment of many residents that little, if any concrete rationale for the minister’s removal had been supplied.
Cochrane has said she cannot go into detail about the reasons for her loss of faith in Nokleby because of confidentiality concerns. Instead, she has spoken of her concerns more generally, expressing the sentiment that Nokleby had acted unprofessionally in her post without providing evidence.
“If I am ever a minister and the premier calls my professionalism into account there better be clear, precise details and documents provided along with the accusation,” Johnson wrote.
“This ensures the media and voters can judge the elected official for themselves. If we come out of this on Wednesday without putting everything on the table we are doing the public a disservice.
“The premier must set out the entire case and minister Nokleby must be given the opportunity to respond tomorrow. I will vote tomorrow based on the information provided to me in the House, not rumours or the other disinformation that seems to be flying around right now.”