The Northwest Territories’ chief electoral officer has been suspended from her role and will not be returning for another term.
As first reported by the CBC, the NWT Legislative Assembly’s board of management decided to suspend Nicole Latour for the remainder of her appointment, which ends on September 30, following concerns about her conduct.
In a statement to Cabin Radio, Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr – chair of that five-MLA board – said it does not normally comment on employment issues but, as Latour had publicly spoken on the matter, was able to confirm her suspension.
According to that statement, Latour was initially suspended for five days on September 3 over concerns regarding her public statements about an independent workplace review. The board said Latour had publicly aligned herself with a sitting MLA, raising questions about her objectivity, and a member of the public had made a harassment complaint against her.
On September 8, after reviewing those concerns and Latour’s response, the board decided to suspend the chief electoral officer for the remainder of her term. The board said she was informed of the decision the following day.
Latour told Cabin Radio she believes the concerns raised are part of what she described as a “concentrated effort” to have her removed from the role.
“At this point in time, the board of management, in my opinion, is just looking for additional justifications to say that they have cause,” she said.
“I’m not their desired candidate in the job and haven’t been for years and years, pretty much since the onset of my tenure, and I’ve known that.”
Latour disagrees with concerns
Latour and Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn were two of four complainants to make misconduct allegations against longtime clerk Tim Mercer in a workplace review and investigation of the NWT legislature’s clerk’s office.
That investigation concluded Latour’s allegations that Mercer abused his power to negatively affect her office, and Norn’s allegations that Mercer lashed out at MLAs who pushed back against his undue influence, were not founded.
Norn, Latour, and their lawyer issued a news release in response criticizing those findings as “largely irrelevant” and calling the investigation a “by-product of a dysfunctional and corrupt system.”
Latour said the investigation – completed by Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting and estimated to have cost $170,000 – inaccurately reduced her allegation to one of racism. She said Quintet failed to speak to witnesses she expected to corroborate her claims.
“I’m still going to assert my position that I don’t believe I received due diligence from Quintet,” she recently told Cabin Radio.
“I’m not a liar. I didn’t make this stuff up for fun. I have a genuine concern about the independence, and lack of independence, of my office.”
Latour said she and other complainants only learned of the investigation’s findings after a summary was released to the public last month and she still has not seen the full report. The board of management said the report will be released in full once it has been reviewed and confidential information redacted.
Latour said as Mercer released his own statement shortly after the summary report came out, she felt pressure to also make a statement. She said that response, which included statements from Norn, was drafted by her lawyer – who also represented Norn during the investigation.
“Just because we’ve done that does not mean we align ourselves,” she said, noting other MLAs also share the same lawyer.
Latour said the harassment complaint against her arose from a private conversation with someone she has kept in touch with for 20 years and was unrelated to her role as chief electoral officer. Latour did not give details about the nature of that conversation but denied she made a threat.
“She was unhappy about it and went to somebody and they’re able to spin that to meet their agenda,” she said. “I have some regret. I should have just not brought up the topic.”
Government is ‘irreparably broken’
Latour said during her tenure as chief electoral officer, she doesn’t believe her concerns and recommendations were taken seriously. She said previous complaints about her office’s lack of independence were left unaddressed, along with her recommendation that the territory implement recall legislation.
“I felt absolutely obliged as a statutory officer to stand up and say something’s not completely right here, there’s too much control being inserted at this level, it undermines the independence of the office,” she said.
“These things should be very concerning to the citizens of the NWT.”
Latour said she believes people have tried to remove her as chief electoral officer because she can’t be controlled and she’s not part of the “old boys’ club.”
In Latour’s view, the NWT government is “irreparably broken” and its consensus-style government is flawed as too much power rests with senior bureaucrats.
“Consensus-style government was nice in theory but it doesn’t work. It’s not working and you can’t really fix it,” she said. “I know that every member is clutching their pearls, like, ‘How dare you say that.’”
Latour said she is speaking out as she decided not to return as chief electoral officer months ago and she plans to leave the North, despite being born and raised here.
The board of management said it plans to recommend existing legislature employee Stephen Dunbar’s appointment as the new chief electoral officer to the Legislative Assembly this fall.
In the interim, Blake said, the board is looking to put an acting chief electoral officer in place to “deal with outstanding matters.”