The Speaker of the NWT Legislative Assembly has apologized to a complainant in an investigation of the legislature clerk’s office for the delay in responding to its findings.
The unidentified former assembly employee – whose complaint that clerk Tim Mercer breached their confidentiality was upheld – complained this week that the legislature’s board of management had yet to act in response.
They pointed out the investigation into their complaint concluded nearly four months ago and Mercer has since returned to his post at the legislature.
In a letter to NWT residents on Friday, Speaker Frederick Blake Jr said he had been working closely with Mercer, the board of management, and caucus to develop an action plan to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Blake said a Covid-19 outbreak at the legislature building had delayed consultations with staff. He committed to releasing the action plan before Christmas.
“The board of management regrets the time it has taken to respond to the fourth complainant, and I sincerely apologize for this delay,” the letter states. “The board has taken steps to deal with the issue internally.”
Ottawa-based firm Quintet Consulting completed a workplace review of the clerk’s office and an investigation into misconduct allegations against Mercer in August. While Quintet concluded the office was not toxic or poisoned in “an overall broad sense” and dismissed three complaints against the clerk, it upheld one complaint and described unresolved labour conflicts, labour relations issues, and worsening tensions between some MLAs and assembly staff.
Quintet issued several recommendations in response, which the legislature’s board of management accepted. Mercer said in a statement at the time he accepted the report’s findings.
Blake’s letter follows reporting from NNSL and CBC of a leaked affidavit in the name of Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson. The affidavit alleges a March 13, 2020 incident between Mercer and minister Shane Thompson that was not investigated by Quintet.
On Friday, Blake said Quintet provided an opportunity for MLAs to participate in its investigation and for that incident to be reviewed, but a complaint on the matter was never filed. He said Mercer and Thompson had apologized to each other and considered the incident closed.
Jacobson’s affidavit was filed in a public inquiry that found Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn breached the code of conduct for MLAs by breaking mandatory self-isolation and misleading the public regarding his compliance with public health orders.
The document formed part of Norn’s argument that the complaint against him should be dismissed as the inquiry was “politically motivated” and, in his view, retaliation for public allegations he made against Mercer.
Sole adjudicator Justice Ronald Barclay ruled that claims about the atmosphere of the assembly and the clerk were not relevant to the inquiry into whether Norn broke the code of conduct.
While Norn’s lawyer raised confidentiality concerns after the affidavit was shared with assembly staff, Barclay ruled the document was not confidential.
Jacobson ultimately joined his fellow MLAs in expelling Norn from the legislature last month following both the adjudicator’s recommendation and separate allegations from MLAs of a “pattern of intimidating, threatening, and insulting behaviour” by Norn.
Blake stated in his letter that he, the board of management, and caucus chair Frieda Martselos – the Thebacha MLA – were unanimous in their support of the assembly and its staff.
“We agree members need to move forward and remain focused on serving your interests as residents of the NWT,” he wrote, added that the assembly considered the matter closed and would not comment further.
Earlier this week, Martselos – describing an assembly “plagued by constant and ongoing leaks” – called on fellow MLAs to work together more closely.
“These leaks have had damaging effects on the proper functioning of our government,” she told the legislature, saying she was tired of seeing the assembly being portrayed as dysfunctional by reporters.
Referring to issues such as the assembly’s workplace environment investigation and Norn’s code of conduct breaches, Martselos added: “We’ve dealt with all these side shows already. It is distracting from and obstructing the work of the Legislative Assembly.”
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.