Report reveals tension between NWT MLAs and legislature staff
A review of the NWT legislature clerk’s office, fully published for the first time, reveals worsening tensions between some new MLAs and staff created an uncomfortable work environment.
The summary, published last month, had already portrayed a divided office of the clerk with unresolved conflicts and labour relations issues. However, Quintet found the workplace to be neither toxic nor poisoned in “an overall broad sense.” Three of four misconduct allegations against longtime clerk Tim Mercer were deemed not to be founded.
While not the focus of the review, the full report shows many current and former employees at the clerk’s office also spoke about negative interactions with MLAs. Employees said those interactions had worsened during the current Legislative Assembly due to the unusually high number of new MLAs.
Among the 19 current MLAs, only seven had been elected to the legislature before 2019 (eight during the period studied by the review, as veteran territorial politician Jackson Lafferty stepped down after that period ended). The report does not identify the exact MLAs about which staff expressed concern.
Contributing to office tension, some staff said, was “unacceptable or disrespectful behaviour on the part of certain MLAs,” like becoming angry when requests were denied or having unreasonable expectations.
Those staff said that when they tried to enforce rules and boundaries, MLAs did not always receive that well.
Some employees reported close relationships between senior management in the clerk’s office and MLAs, creating a “malaise” and a feeling that managers would side with MLAs, not staff, during conflicts. The full report states that led some staff to believe “MLAs can do whatever they want, without consequences” and instilled a lack of confidence in managers’ abilities to address concerns.
“Some participants perceive management as unwilling or unable to decisively resolve workplace conflict, including their own management’s conflict with others,” the report states.
The report concludes elected officials must be informed of the limitations of their role, expectations of their interactions with staff, and consequences of “unwelcome behaviour.”
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who chairs the caucus of 19 MLAs, said in a statement MLAs had discussed the report during a confidential caucus meeting and would work with staff to address their concerns.
“Any mistreatment of staff will not be tolerated. Members will hold each other accountable whenever another member treats our staff disrespectfully,” he stated.
Other issues many staff mentioned in the report were a lack of effective communication within the organization and silos among different groups.
Some said they believe direct appointments are overused and based on personal relationships, calling appointees “Tim’s Angels” that “can do no wrong.” Several of those employees said they watched their “dream job” get filled by appointment without having the opportunity to apply.
The report makes seven recommendations to improve the organization and address outstanding concerns. They include creating a dedicated human resources position, better informing employees about staffing decisions, implementing an onboarding program to allow new employees access to training and professional development opportunities, and creating a similar onboarding process for new MLAs in the next Legislative Assembly.
The board of management, a five-MLA group that oversees the running of the legislature, says it accepts the recommendations and has directed the office of the clerk to develop an action plan.
Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr, who chairs that board, said in a statement: “The board of management recognizes that this is an opportunity to address employee concerns in the office of the clerk, and staff are committed to addressing the issues raised in the workplace review.”