A file photo of Steve Norn in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn on Monday became the latest individual to allege the clerk of the Legislative Assembly has spent more than a decade abusing his authority and intimidating others.
At a hastily convened news conference in a legislature committee room, Norn said he himself had been victimized by clerk Tim Mercer and that the allegations of others were “credible and damning.” Mercer denies wrongdoing.
“The Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories has become infested with an ethical rot that is undermining the wellbeing of staff, elected officials and even our democracy,” Norn said.
The MLA said complaints of “abuses of authority and intimidation” in the clerk’s office stretch back 14 years. He claimed Mercer has used his power and influence over the years to “bully, demean and terrorize his subordinates and even threaten the wellbeing of elected members.”
“There are individuals that came forward to me who were crying, afraid and wanted to deal with this and I can’t let that go silent any more,” he added.
Norn’s statement follows an NNSL report in which chief electoral officer Nicole Latour alleged harassment by Mercer and a CBC report in which a committee advisor was said to have described “a corporate culture of intimidation, ostracization and fear” in a letter of complaint about Mercer.
Norn, who is a former RCMP officer and Crown witness coordinator for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, called for a full, independent and public investigation into Mercer’s conduct and for the clerk to immediately resign.
“It is time for this abuse of power to come to an end,” he said. “We owe our staff and each other justice and must hold the clerk accountable for the toxic legacy he has created within the walls of this institution.”
The MLA said the legislature’s five-person board of management had taken little action despite repeated requests.
The board, which most recently met last week, includes Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr, alongside Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson, Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, and government ministers Diane Archie and Paulie Chinna.
“I take no joy out of this,” Norn told reporters on Monday.
“I love this institution. I want to make sure that we run it properly, ethically.”
Referring to the chamber of the House, he added: “We preach in there that you shouldn’t ever have any workplace bullying, you should always feel comfortable coming to work. And right now, it is not like that.”
The clerk has the same powers, duties and functions of a deputy minister and is responsible for advising members of the privileges, rules, practices and procedures of the assembly.
On Monday, however, Norn characterized Mercer as believing his role is to make “unilateral decisions” on matters ranging from the appointment of cabinet members to even the tone of language used in official reports.
Norn said Mercer had shown “disrespectful behaviour and shocking attempts” to intimidate MLAs – including himself – and that when members pushed back against “undue influence,” Mercer responded with anger and demeaning language.
Norn also cited allegations that Mercer had used physical violence against a minister.
In May 2020, NNSL reported a confrontation between Mercer and Shane Thompson became physical in nature. According to a witness, Mercer slapped Thompson’s hand then “gave him a little shove.”
While Mercer later told NNSL he had engaged in a “heated discussion” with Thompson, he denied that it became physical.
Norn concluded his prepared statement by asking anyone who experienced abuse, intimidation or harassment as a legislature employee over the past 14 years to contact him.
Approached for comment by Cabin Radio, Mercer said by email that he believed the publication of several sets of allegations in recent days to be a coordinated and unfair “media circus.”
“The only one of these seemingly coordinated allegations that has been put to the test of any sort of due process are the ones from Ms Taylor. And they were found to be sorely wanting in credibility and essentially an unwillingness on her part and a small number of others to follow legitimate management direction,” Mercer wrote.
“I will subject myself fully to a fair and impartial review of these allegations, but will not break and bend to a coordinated attack without an opportunity to respond in a properly managed process, rather than a public shaming or media circus.
“After almost 18 years serving this institution I have of course made decisions and carried out direction that was not popular with people who may have been adversely affected by it. I tell it like I see it and that has the unfortunate effect of ruffling feathers. But I am paid handsomely to give fearless and expert advice that includes a lot of corporate history of that place. That is the nature of the position.
“I am confident, beyond any doubt, that the vast majority of MLAs that I have served, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and the vast number of current and former employees, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who work for me would take serious issue with the accusations being levelled against me and reject the characterization of the workplace being painted by a few people.
“Most are intelligent enough to know what and who is driving this seemingly random groundswell of accusations,” Mercer concluded, without indicating whom he believed to be responsible. “A due process is the only way to confirm this and that is what I expect.”
In a separate statement first released to the CBC and, on Monday, to Cabin Radio, Mercer also pointed to the results of two 2018 investigations into his conduct – which found allegations against him to be unfounded – as evidence that concerns were coming from a small group of disgruntled employees.
In that statement, Mercer said the legislature was witnessing “an uncivil war … fuelled by a small group of former and failed Yellowknife politicians who have been unwilling to accept the results of the 2019 election and subsequent leadership selection process.”
The board of management released a statement on Friday rejecting chief electoral officer Latour’s claim of “interference or improper considerations” when the board decided to seek expressions of interest for her position. Her term ends on March 31. The board’s statement did not address claims of harassment by Latour and others.