A complainant in a recent investigation of the Northwest Territories legislature’s clerk is calling for MLAs to take action to protect the well-being of assembly staff.
The unidentified complainant was one of four people who lodged complaints against longtime clerk Tim Mercer in February, which were the subject of an investigation and workplace review by Quintet Consulting.
While three of those complaints were deemed unfounded, Quintet upheld the fourth complaint that Mercer breached confidentiality when he publicly commented on previous investigations into his conduct in a statement to CBC.
In a letter titled “inaction at the Legislative Assembly,” shared with Cabin Radio on Sunday, the unnamed fourth complainant’s lawyer wrote that although Quintet’s report was completed more than three months ago, they have yet to hear from the legislature’s five-MLA board of management about its plan to respond.
“Our client’s concerns appear to be getting ignored, after full cooperation with the investigation commissioned by the speaker and board of management,” a document attached to the letter states.
“What has happened to our client could happen again at any moment. This is not a workplace standard aspired to by any democratic parliamentary institution.”
Quintet found that in publicly referencing the confidential 2018 investigations, Mercer violated both the legislature’s code of conduct and its harassment-free and respectful workplace policy. The consultancy firm concluded that in doing so, the clerk’s conduct was “inconsistent with the expectations of someone in his position.”
Quintet’s report, completed on August 19, stated anyone with knowledge of the prior investigations could have identified the complainant from Mercer’s statement. The report also suggested Mercer’s statement may have led people to believe all allegations against him in 2018 were dismissed, even though two complaints were upheld.
The report added that if the complainant were still an employee in the clerk’s office, Mercer’s comments would have constituted personal harassment.
The complainant and their lawyer, Austin Marshall, are now asking the board of management to make a decision, saying “the gravity of the clerk’s actions is of a high order.”
“Our client experiences the confidentiality breach and untruthful statements as continuing harassment as long as they go unaddressed and uncorrected,” Marshall wrote in an email to Cabin Radio.
“Investigations like this are stressful. They cause anxiety. Had there been a timely resolution, this matter could have ended with much less negative impact on our client.”
Marshall’s letter points out all 17 sitting MLAs recently took action to expel former Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn from the legislature following the finding of a public inquiry that Norn breached the MLAs code of conduct and, separately, allegations from MLAs of a “pattern of threatening behaviour.”
“Our MLAs have clearly spoken unanimous commitment to their right to safety in the workplace,” the letter reads.
“The MLAs have said little about the safety and well-being of the assembly’s staff.”
The safety of staff was a recurring topic when MLAs rose to speak in the House regarding Norn’s conduct last month.
Mercer was placed on administrative leave when the investigation into his conduct began in February. The clerk returned to his post at the legislature in mid-October.
After a summary of Quintet’s report was released in August, Mercer said in a statement to Cabin Radio he accepted the findings and apologized to anyone involved in the 2018 investigations for referencing them.
Mercer said he did so in his own defence after a letter from a research advisor to MLAs was made public that detailed allegations he said were previously investigated and dismissed.
“It was not my intention to cause anyone harm by quoting from this report,” Mercer wrote.
The legislature’s board of management has said it accepts Quintet’s recommendations and the clerk’s office is working on an action plan to implement them. A timeline for that plan and what it will entail has not been publicly released.
Speaker Frederick Blake Jr said in a statement that the plan is nearly complete and will be publicly released before Christmas.
“The completion and implementation of the action plan to address the recommendations of the workplace review report is a priority for the board of management,” the statement reads.
“I look forward to sharing the plan once completed as it shows long-term commitment to a healthy workplace where staff feel safe and respected.”