Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn announced on Tuesday he would resign from the NWT’s legislature, though a vote on his expulsion went ahead with all except Norn in favour.
Norn announced his resignation after the second successive day of other MLAs rising almost in unison to condemn his conduct and what they characterized as a “pattern of toxic behaviour” stretching back a year or more.
The majority of MLAs had already declared their intention to expel Norn before he spoke, rendering his departure a certainty.
“I will resign. I will prevent you from making this vote,” Norn said after a short speech.
However, Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr said Norn has announced his resignation so late in the process that the legislature’s rules dictated a vote on the motion to expel Norn must still take place.
Seventeen of the 19 MLAs voted in favour of expelling Norn. Blake, as speaker, did not vote. Norn took no part in the vote, neither opposing nor abstaining.
Earlier this month, an independent adjudicator concluded Norn had broken MLAs’ code of conduct by breaking Covid-19 self-isolation in April and subsequently misleading the public about his actions.
But MLAs said his behaviour for many months was as troubling if not more so. Over the past two days they have described abuse of legislature staff and a series of threats issued by Norn to MLAs, often suggesting he was “coming for them” if they took actions of which he disapproved.
“It isn’t just one thing. It has been almost a year,” said Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, recounting “a pattern of threats.”
“As an Indigenous female,” said Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, “I never once did think I would be threatened in this House.”
“We can’t say we want to address the unacceptable levels of violence against women if we allow or justify our leaders to do the very actions we collectively say are not OK,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane.
“These actions were not acceptable and cannot be justified, and there need to be consequences.”
‘This is regrettable’
Norn had opposed the adjudicator’s findings, claiming Justice Ronald Barclay’s recommendation that the MLA’s seat be vacated was “a huge step back from reconciliation.” On Monday, he suggested he was a victim of “gotcha culture.”
On Tuesday, moments before announcing his resignation, Norn maintained he was being held to an unfair standard.
“Every single syllable that has let my mouth has been scrutinized and judged to the Nth degree,” he told colleagues.
As he apologized for his conduct, he said: “I would never hurt anybody. I would never hurt a fly.”
Norn concluded: “I’ll hold my head up high and do the best I can for my family. This is regrettable.”
Prior to that moment, MLAs had sought – as they each read prepared statements – to place both Norn’s actions and their motion to expel him into context.
Removing Norn was not simply a response to the adjudicator’s report, many MLAs said, but the consequence of abusive behaviour over a sustained period.
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, who moved the motion to remove Norn, said: “I do not move this lightly. Expulsion is the most serious sanction this assembly can impose, but in this case it is the only appropriate sanction.”
Martselos said her concerns were “not limited to a single incident” but based on “a pattern of intimidating, threatening, and insulting behaviour.”
She said Norn had “engaged in a sustained campaign” to undermine efforts to investigate his potential breaches of the MLAs’ code of conduct and, “instead of taking responsibility, he prefers to attack the institutions he perceives as a threat to him.”
Martselos concluded: “This has gone on long enough.”
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who chairs the caucus of all MLAs in the NWT’s consensus government system, said suggestions that past MLAs who committed more serious offences had not faced similar consequences missed the point.
“The last assembly created this code of conduct, they created this process, and we all agreed to it,” said Johnson.
“There have been comments that members of previous assemblies committed criminal acts and did things disreputable to this House. One of the reasons this process was created was previous assemblies felt they did not have the power to hold themselves to account. That is what this process we have created.
“In many ways, one-off criminal offences that are not … threatening staff who work here is very much a different conversation than the conversation we’re having. In southern jurisdictions, there have been numerous resignations when things like this occur. Party caucuses would kick members out. Those aren’t tools we have.”
A by-election for Norn’s seat will now be called.
The MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh represents the communities of Fort Resolution, Łútsël K’é, Dettah, and Ndilǫ.