Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Nunavut November 19, 2012 - 8:29 am

MLA responds to Nov. 15 editorial on Fred Schell ethics scandal


Although I considered following the advice that is contained in the famous saying to “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” I am writing in response to your editorial, An assembly without integrity? which was published in the November 15, 2012, online edition of Nunatsiaq News.

As one of the seventeen Members of the Legislative Assembly who voted on the public record to fully accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report concerning the Member for South Baffin within days of its being tabled (Mr. Schell, abstained, and the Speaker’s role is to preside over our sittings in an impartial manner), I have to assume that you are questioning my integrity, as well as those of all of my colleagues — Ministers and Regular Members alike.

In writing this letter, I went back to the very public dialogue that you and I had on Twitter earlier this month concerning the issues that your editorial raises. I’ll write now what I tweeted then: I make my best efforts to represent everyone fairly, and I believe that part of that responsibility is to not make premature decisions or to jump to conclusions.

Your editorial reminded readers that the former Minister had his portfolios removed earlier this year, as a result of allegations having been made against him. It’s also important to remind readers that it was not until the report of the Integrity Commissioner was actually tabled in the Legislative Assembly that most — if not all — of the Regular MLAs and Ministers finally learned what the substance of those allegations actually were.

A couple of weeks ago, you tweeted that “the cloud of suspicion was sufficient justification” to have removed the former Minister from his position earlier this year.

We are going to have to agree to disagree on the question of whether suspicion alone is enough to warrant immediate removal from office. For me, I need more evidence than a one-sentence allegation in a news release to make such a decision.

I can’t formally speak for all of my colleagues on this point — but I think that their actions speak for themselves.

Your editorial makes the point that it is the Legislative Assembly as a whole that decides whether or not the Premier and Cabinet Ministers keep their positions. I don’t think that any Minister or Member takes this responsibility lightly.

This was reflected in the fact that the motion to accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report was moved by a Minister and seconded by a Regular MLA. It’s also reflected in the fact that the original announcement from the government concerning the former Minister’s portfolio removal did acknowledge that it’s our collective responsibility to make decisions on confidence matters.

Given the time and money that’s been spent on this affair, I don’t disagree that it would be helpful to take a close look at how the process for handling ethics complaints is designed, including such questions as who should have the responsibility of signing such complaints and how much information concerning the substance of the complaints should be made available to MLAs and the public before the Integrity Commissioner has concluded his or her investigation.

I also think that it’s important to look at what consequences need to be introduced for appointed public officials who do not voluntarily comply with the processes envisioned in our legislation.

I have to say that the timing of your editorial is puzzling. From the very beginning of this affair, Nunatsiaq News has reported fairly and thoroughly on the process to be followed in such matters, with the clear implication being that MLAs would be well-advised to allow it to unfold as prescribed by law.

For example, a story in the August 6, 2012, online edition (“Nunavut ethics chief given until October 31 to finish Schell review: Integrity Commissioner requests more time”) noted that the Integrity Commissioner requested an extension of time to complete his review, so that the full facts of the situation could be presented to the entire Legislative Assembly, presumably so that it could make a full, reasoned and informed decision in this matter.

That’s why I supported this request, as did all of my colleagues on the Assembly’s Management and Services Board, which includes a Ministerial representative who is designated by the Premier. This article also noted that the Integrity Commissioner himself did not receive the government’s formal complaint until April 23, 2012, which was many weeks after the initial allegations had been made.

Is your editorial a case of “shooting the prisoner after he’s been executed?” Perhaps, and I can’t help but ask this question: if my colleagues and I had followed your after-the-fact advice and voted to remove the former Minister from office before the whole story was known, would the title of your editorial have been, “MLAs rush to judgment without evidence”?

We’ll never know. That’s one of the troubles with second-guessing.

Ron Elliott
MLA, Quttiktuq

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