A former Yellowknife MLA says the rules set for an investigation of bullying complaints levelled against the clerk of the Northwest Territories legislature will prevent investigators — and the public — from getting a full picture of what it's been like to work in the office of the clerk.
The legislature's board of management announced on Tuesday that it had retained Ottawa-based Quintet Consulting Corporation to investigate the complaints. CBC News reported allegations made separately by Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn and a current employee in the clerk's office, April Taylor, about clerk Tim Mercer.
In a press conference last month, Norn said Mercer has bullied, demeaned and terrorized employees at the legislature and threatened the wellbeing of elected members. Taylor called on the board of management — a committee of MLAs that oversees the legislature — to fire Mercer, who she said is responsible for "a corporate culture of intimidation, ostracization and fear." CBC News spoke to four others who have worked with Mercer who also accused him of bullying.
Mercer denies the allegations. He said they were investigated and largely dismissed during the last Legislative Assembly. He says they are part of a campaign being mounted by former MLAs and others who are not satisfied with the outcome of the last election or the selection of the current premier and cabinet.
At the same time it announced it had retained Quintet to investigate the allegations, the board of management issued a copy of the terms of reference for the investigation, terms which former Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart says are inadequate.
"We need to do this right, for the sake of both the clerk and for the complainants, and for the MLAs," said Testart. "If they don't bring this to a closure that is transparent and has the kind of standards of integrity that northerners expect, it's going to create a toxic legacy that's going to impact future assemblies for years to come."
Testart said one of the biggest flaws is the time period to which Quintet is confined.
Under the terms of reference, the firm will conduct a review into general concerns about the work environment in the clerk's office. That review is limited to the 14 months since the last territorial election. Only people who have worked in the office during that time can be questioned.
Quintet will also investigate three separate written complaints of "harassment and/or misconduct relating to the alleged conduct of an employee of the NTLA [Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly]," according to the terms of reference.
Norn, Taylor and chief electoral officer Nicole Latour have all made complaints against Mercer.
The board of management will then meet to consider reports Quintet will do on the review and the investigation.
"There's a huge issue with transparency," said Testart. "Everything is going to be kept confidential, including the final report. So, presumably, if it's anything like the board has operated in the past, we'll get a press statement about their decision, but we won't see any details, which is very unlike the recent issues with the governor general, where the public was given a full report to consider, and I think that's the expectation here."
Speaker not speaking
Speaker Frederick Blake Jr. is responsible for managing the legislature and chairs the board of management. He said he was not available for an interview. When asked why, a communications official responded in an email: "The Speaker will not take interviews regarding matters currently before the Board of Management."
The official clarified that the investigations of the three written complaints is not confined to any specific time period.
Testart said Blake should recuse himself for all discussions around allegations involving the clerk, because in posts on Blake's Facebook page, the Speaker refers to Mercer as his "buddy," and is pictured helping the clerk with home renovations, and lounging with him on the deck of the clerk's home.
In the email, the communications official said the law requires all MLAs to carry out their duties objectively and without consideration for personal or financial interests. The official said clerks and Speakers have close relationships in legislatures across the country.
Blake reportedly shared April Taylor's letter of complaint about Mercer with Mercer soon after the closed meeting in which it was first discussed by the board of management. In an email to CBC, Blake said it was not considered confidential because, in the letter, Taylor noted she had shared it with CBC.
Blake did not respond when asked whether the board had decided to share the letter with Mercer or whether he made that decision on his own.
The investigation and review is expected to cost $75,000 to $100,000. The board is anticipating it will be completed within two to three months.
Taylor was placed on leave with pay the day after her letter was presented to the board. She is being investigated as a result of a complaint that she breached her oath of secrecy and other rules. Mercer also went on leave shortly after the allegations surfaced.