Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn and his lawyer say he should not lose his seat in the NWT Legislative Assembly, contrary to the recommendation of the sole adjudicator in a public inquiry.
In a 191-page report released on Wednesday afternoon, Justice Ronald Barclay found Norn breached the code of conduct for NWT MLAs by breaking mandatory self-isolation in April on several occasions and then misleading the public regarding his compliance with public health orders.
The retired judge, who recently served for 10 years as Saskatchewan’s conflict of interest commissioner, wrote that Norn was “unfit to remain a member” of the territory’s legislature and that “expulsion is the only appropriate remedy.”
For Norn’s seat to be declared vacant, a majority of MLAs would have to vote in favour of the recommendation in the NWT legislature.
Both Norn and his lawyer Steven Cooper said in a news conference on Thursday afternoon that would be undemocratic. They made clear they don’t agree with Barclay’s findings.
“It’s a very odd circumstance in the annals of democracy where Mr Norn’s fellow elected representatives may have the power to remove him from elected office,” Cooper said.
“The only people in the world who have the power to place Mr Norn, and his colleagues respectively, in as members of the assembly are his constituents. Under any democratic theory, only those same constituents should have the power to replace him.”
Norn, who called Barclay’s decision “a huge step back from reconciliation,” said the only proper way to remove an MLA from the assembly would be through recall legislation, which the NWT does not currently have.
“This whole process was a colossal waste of time, resources, and taxpayer money,” he said of the public inquiry.
Repeating allegations made by Cooper throughout the hearing, Norn said he believes the inquiry’s outcome was predetermined and he is being punished for trying to hold the government and Legislative Assembly staff accountable.
Norn was referencing allegations he made against legislature clerk Tim Mercer in February, which were the subject of a workplace review and investigation conducted by Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting.
Norn and Cooper have previously rejected findings from Quintet that the office of the clerk is not toxic or poisoned in “an overall broad sense” and that three of four allegations – including those made by Norn – were unfounded.
Barclay ruled that allegations about the atmosphere of the assembly and accusations against Mercer were not relevant to the inquiry into whether Norn breached the code of conduct.
‘Be afraid, be very afraid’
Cooper concluded his lengthy statement on Thursday with a warning for MLAs if they approve Barclay’s recommendation to oust Norn from the legislature.
“Members of the Legislative Assembly, consider the precedent you are asked to be set,” he said. “Once this remedy recommended by this southern expert is imposed, if that’s the conclusion, be afraid, be very afraid … because the moment you give the power to each other to evict one another, you not only add to the undermining of an already rotting democracy in the Northwest Territories, you give more power to the bureaucracy.”
Norn said MLAs will discuss Barclay’s report at an upcoming caucus meeting. Caucus consists of all 19 members of the Legislative Assembly, including the premier and ministers, and its meetings are confidential.
“I just want to go back to work and work normally, as normal, without this hanging over me,” Norn said. “Right now, it’s in the hands of my colleagues.”
Norn had attempted to bar Cabin Radio from Thursday’s news conference despite it being hosted by the NWT Legislative Assembly.
Legislature staff initially complied with Norn’s request by withholding login information for the virtual conference.
The legislature released that information just before the conference began, following a complaint from Cabin Radio.