Report describes ‘divided’ but not toxic workplace in clerk’s office
A workplace review has found the office of the NWT Legislative Assembly’s clerk is divided but not broadly toxic, while an investigation into longtime clerk Tim Mercer concluded several allegations of misconduct against him were unfounded.
In February, Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting was hired to conduct a review of the clerk’s office during the current Assembly, and investigate Mercer’s conduct, following allegations of a “toxic or poisoned” workplace and that Mercer abused his authority, and intimidated and harassed staff and MLAs. On Thursday, the legislature’s board of management released a summary of the findings.
The 24-page document, based on interviews of 30 current and former employees and three “knowledgable individuals,” found that many reported positive workplace experiences including pride in the work of the office and assembly, a sense of belonging and connection, and satisfaction with the level of inclusiveness – particularly when it came to opportunities for Indigenous people. The report notes that staff who actively participated in social activities and had frequent interactions with senior management generally reported having an overall better experience.
A large majority of participants also spoke positively about Mercer, but the report says some raised serious concerns about his conduct, and a diverse group of staff described having an overall negative experience in the workplace.
Among the concerns voiced were claims of unresolved conflicts and labour relations issues, communication issues, difficult interactions with MLAs, clerks being favoured, and conflict of interest and preferential treatment of staffing. The report notes, however, that many of the appointments in question were made to benefit Indigenous candidates.
“These disparate views and experiences are symptomatic of a divided workplace and a lack of unity,” the summary states, adding that would likely have a negative impact even on staff who reported positive work experiences.
While Quintet concluded the office of the clerk is divided, it did not find that the workplace was toxic or poisoned in “an overall broad sense.” It did, however, recommend that the concerns be addressed.
“If left unaddressed, these problems are likely to continue to negatively affect the health of the workplace for an increasingly large number of employees.”
The Legislative Assembly’s board of management said in a statement that it accepts the recommendations and the clerk’s office will begin work on an action plan.
“We would like to thank all participants for taking part in this review process. We understand that this has been a challenging process for everyone involved, and I appreciate everyone’s patience as Quintet completed their work,” Speaker Frederick Blake Jr said in a statement.
Investigation finds three of four allegations unfounded
Along with the workplace review, Quintet investigated several allegations of misconduct against Mercer. It said the investigation involved a “complex situation” and was “unprecedented” due to its public nature and the variety of people involved.
In February, NNSL reported that NWT Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Latour accused Mercer of targeted harassment while CBC reported research advisor April Taylor described a “corporate culture of intimidation, ostracization and fear” under Mercer in a letter to MLAs.
That same month, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn held a press conference calling for an independent investigation into the allegations and for Mercer to resign. He claimed the clerk had used his power and influence to “bully, demean, and terrorize his subordinates and even threaten the wellbeing of elected members,” describing an “ethical rot” in the Legislative Assembly that undermined staff wellbeing and democracy.
In response, Mercer – who has been clerk since he was appointed to the role in October 2003 and supervises approximately 35 employees – denied any wrongdoing and pointed to previous investigations he said concluded investigations against him were unfounded.
Quintet concluded complaints from Latour that Mercer abused his position and power to negatively affect her office, from Taylor that he denied her opportunities and negatively influenced her managers, and from Norn who said the clerk “lashed out” when MLAs tried to push back against his undue influence, were not founded. In particular, the report noted that Latour’s allegation that Mercer wanted to remove her as electoral officer because she is Indigenous lacked credible evidence and many people in the clerk’s office view him as “a champion for Indigenous people.”
A fourth complaint from an unidentified former employee was determined to be founded. They raised concerns that Mercer breached confidentiality requirements and the code of conduct when he publicly discussed previous investigations into allegations against him. Quintet said much of the evidence in the complaint was undisputed but noted there were “extenuating circumstances” involved, and the workplace policy – which sets out the confidentiality requirements – did not apply to the complainant.
Of the six people Quintet contacted for interviews who Norn and Taylor identified as having complaints against Mercer, none chose to submit allegations against the clerk.
In a written statement, Mercer, who has been on administrative leave since the investigation began, said he is “pleased” with and “fully accepts” the findings of the report. He also issued an apology to anyone involved in the 2018 investigation against him for referencing its findings.
“The six and a half months since the above-noted allegations were made have been difficult, not only for me but for my family, close network of friends, and the staff of the Legislative Assembly,” he wrote.
“I look forward to putting this matter behind me and moving on with my career in a productive way.”