Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby three times called health minister Julie Green’s conduct “disgusting” as tempers frayed again at the NWT’s legislature.
Nokleby, formerly a minister before being removed by her colleagues in similarly tense circumstances last year, was reacting to barbed remarks from Green as the two discussed whether the territory is in a mental health crisis.
While Nokleby argued that “even one person falling through the cracks is a crisis,” Green said mental health in the NWT was a significant and complex issue, warranting a large investment, but had not recently worsened to the extent of becoming a crisis.
The quarrel was part of a larger back-and-forth over youth mental health supports. Nokleby had been inquiring about the possibility of establishing a child and adolescent psychiatric unit.
“I recognize the member and I don’t agree on this,” Green told the legislature in reference to the word “crisis.”
“She has been soliciting horror stories on Facebook and apparently has been very gratified with that,” the minister added, a reference to a February 5 Facebook post in which Nokleby wrote: “If you feel like you’re falling through the cracks in our mental health system, reach out to me with your story and I will forward them to the health minister for her education.”
Responding to Green, Nokleby said: “I think it’s disgusting that the minister would characterize my wanting to advocate for my constituents and residents of this territory as collecting horror stories that I find gratifying. I find it disgusting.
“And I find it disgusting that the minister does not accept she is in the middle of a crisis, that the pandemic is only accelerating that crisis. If she continues to deny the problem … we’re only going to see things get worse.”
At that point, with Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr asserting “I’ll take that as a comment,” the sound of Nokleby apparently leaving the chamber can be heard.
Both Green and Nokleby, on her return, subsequently filed points of order with Blake accusing the other of wrongly impugning their motives – in other words, questioning the integrity of their conduct – which MLAs cannot do under legislature rules.
Those points of order are to be debated in the House on Wednesday, to give time for each MLA to consult Hansard (the written record of the day’s remarks) and understand exactly what was said.
Nokleby said she also needed time to “allow myself to calm down and speak to this matter properly.”
More legislature drama
The NWT legislature has endured a string of tempestuous exchanges since the 2019 territorial election.
A year ago, Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty was asked to leave the chamber after a week-long war of words with Premier Caroline Cochrane in which he accused Cochrane of misleading the House, overstepping her authority, and breaking the law in personally ordering the firing of Aurora College president Tom Weegar.
Nokleby’s removal as a minister was then sought twice in half a year: first by regular MLAs and then by her own cabinet colleagues, led by Cochrane.
The final 16-1 vote that removed her was remarkable both for the terms used by the premier to describe her outgoing minister – a woman who, Cochrane said, “degraded” staff and had “continual tantrums” in meetings – and for Nokleby’s description of a “toxic culture of secrecy” at the highest level of government.
That same month, Cochrane told the CBC “a handful in the bunch” among MLAs were causing conflict. She implored her colleagues: “The days of fighting, and yelling, and who’s got the most obnoxious voice out there, is not what the people want.”
Yet Nokleby and Green – elevated to cabinet to replace Nokleby – have rarely seen eye-to-eye and often engage in some of the House’s more bitter exchanges.
As a regular MLA, Green was an outspoken critic of Nokleby’s work on the industry and infrastructure portfolios. In May 2020, Green was one of the first MLAs to state she was ready to remove Nokleby as a minister. Since their roles reversed, Nokleby has routinely voiced dissatisfaction with Green’s performance.
Nokleby twice had questions in the House for Green last week, and the two sparred in slightly less aggressive terms on the subject of mental health on Friday.
On Wednesday, the Speaker of the House will hear more on the subject of Tuesday’s exchange and has the option of disciplining either or both MLAs, as happened to Lafferty in March last year.