Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut May 30, 2018 - 10:29 am

Stop intimidating civil servants, Nunavut MLA says

“I’m trying to send the message across the bureaucracy,” says Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes wants Nunavummiut to know that talking to your MLA is your right and you should feel free to do it. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes wants Nunavummiut to know that talking to your MLA is your right and you should feel free to do it. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

If you had listened to question period at the Nunavut legislature four years ago, a statement on fear-mongering experienced by Nunavut’s civil servants made yesterday by Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes might sound familiar.

“Muzzles and gag orders are not healthy for our government and they are not healthy for this legislative assembly,” Hickes said in a members statement May 29.

It’s the same message he sent to cabinet in 2014, after Hickes was accused of getting “insider information” about a department.

Now, Hickes is concerned that public servants are receiving threats from senior Government of Nunavut managers and being told not to talk to their MLAs.

“The issue of employees being told to not bring to the attention of their MLA any concerns they may have seems to have reared its ugly head again,” he said.

While Hickes chose to keep details confidential, he told Nunatsiaq News there are specific examples that led him to resurrect this old message.

“There has been clear direction in some instances to not speak to members of the assembly,” he said.

Hickes added that he still finds a tone, or culture of discomfort, within the territorial public service when it comes to consulting with MLAs.

Because there are more than 3,000 employees of the GN in Nunavut, Hickes sees this as a real problem.

Regular members appeared to agree with his statement and ensuing questions when they drum-rolled on their desks throughout his statement.

Constituents need to be confident that communicating with elected members of the legislative assembly is their right, Hickes said.

And he said those employees should “feel comfortable that they will not be targeted with blind accusations from within the public administration for doing so.”

For the record, Hickes asked the minister responsible for the Public Service Act, David Akeeagok, if that law prohibits public servants from communicating with their MLAs.

He also asked if Akeeagok is aware of any directives made by senior GN managers to dissuade or direct employees from talking to their MLAs.

To both questions, Akeeagok said absolutely not.

“Yes our employees are free to provide information to our MLAs,” he said. “Employees do have those rights … there are a number of ways they are protected.”

That’s under the Public Service Act, and through an ethics officer who Akeeagok encouraged all GN staff to contact if they need to.

While there is a set process for filing complaints in areas like health and workplace safety, sometimes there are “breakdowns” in that process, Hickes said.

When that happens, an MLA is in a position to make sure their constituents’ complaints are acknowledged and properly dealt with.

“I want to make sure that people are aware that if their issue is not being taken seriously they have recourse,” he said to Nunatsiaq News.

“Some people just don’t feel comfortable coming to their MLA, because they fear repercussions from their supervisor.”

This fear is no doubt more real in small communities, Hickes said.

For his constituents in Iqaluit, anonymity is less of a concern because there are so many public servants in Iqaluit.

But in a small community there may only be one or two people who can make a specific complaint from within a government department.

Given the nature of Nunavut’s consensus government, constituents shouldn’t feel that asking a question or suggesting a new approach to an MLA is akin to publicly criticizing the government in the media or starting a formal whistle-blowing process, Hickes said.

In fact, he relies on feedback from his constituents to do his job, Hickes said.

“I value this input and use it every day in my work,” he said.

“If we as MLAs do not have the opportunity to hear directly from our constituents on their ideas for how to improve the way we do business, we will all lose touch.

“I have no intention of losing touch with my constituents and I also have no intention of being muzzled in this House,” he said in his statement.

Hickes said he expects to see other members bring up similar concerns.

“I’m trying to send the message across the bureaucracy,” he told Nunatsiaq News. “I think this might have opened up the can a bit.”

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(27) Comments:

#1. Posted by ugly place to work on May 30, 2018

Nunavut will always maintain its threats against workers as long as there are unqualified, frightened senior management. They feel threatened by the intelligent people, so they crush them and intimidate them. This is only getting worse, especially with the current arrogance level at the Premier’s office. Full of the very worst, backstabbing bullies imaginable. They smile as they stick the knife in your back. Terrible people in power positions at the top. Old boys club. Old school style. Terror factory. Soul sellers.

#2. Posted by Bbff on May 30, 2018

Yes #1 well said this is exactly what’s going on! Old boys club for sure! Not worth speaking up over the corruption employees regularily see.

#3. Posted by Its true on May 30, 2018

The concern is true. When I was with GN there was verbal directive given in the Senior Management meeting that employees had to notify their supervisor when they happen to eat in restaurant while there was MLA in the same room. Worrisome was more so if you are an Inuk or speak Inuktitut and the MLA speaks Inuktitut.

#4. Posted by CB on May 30, 2018

Thank you for continuing to raise this issue. I agree, too many insecure senior managers. The GN must also stop this practice of promoting and shuffling bullies and problem employees. It’s a sad state to confirm that in Nunavut you can bully and intimidate your way to power and continue to hold power by sheer brute force.

I also want to comment that George, in raising this issue, should also confront his own temper and habits. I have observed George as confrontational in response to criticism. If he wants to effectively eliminate an environment of fear and intimidation then he too must learn to contain his own tendencies that discourage open discourse.

#5. Posted by Good Government Means accountability on May 30, 2018

#1 - Well said

The GN is a toxic environment and maybe changes will happen when light is shed on issues. Gag orders just reinforce the dysfunction and drive the good people out of their jobs. 

Mr. Hickes, we support you as you challenge the status quo and hold this government accountable.

#6. Posted by eskimo joe on May 30, 2018

i know pq (like 99% of nunavummiut), that’s damn good, create fear because civil servants all over nunavut has been asho*les all these years. good show. how the tide has turn. lets not forget, there’s two sides to civil servants with distinct redline and maybe this is where “fear” has surfaced. yeah let’s have some fear within gn staff for change. district managers and social services (welfare) are the worst lot. idea; why take orders from little eskimos? old joe is always critical, sorry folks. call spade a spade.

#7. Posted by inuktitut on May 30, 2018

Not only that, GN employees are not permitted to speak up against the GN through social media, that just like as if North Korea told it’s citizens not to use cell phones, in their own country and they all obeyed.

how are we supposed to live healthy lifestyle, and speak our minds when the top gov’t refuses us to hear from our heats and minds.

#8. Posted by It happened to me on May 30, 2018

I got called into the office and bullied and threatened many times. I was always reminded not to say anything because it was my word against his and he had powerful contacts. I was told if I spoke up I would be sent to Apex. Not sure what that even means.

#9. Posted by sled dog on May 30, 2018

don’t employees have to sign non disclosures. That would include disclosure to MLA’s.

If an employee wants to speak to an MLA about a work issue they are likely breaking an agreement they signed. This is the business of high level crats.

If an employee wants to speak to an MLA regarding non work issues, then that is not the business of high lever crats.

I applaud Mr. Hickes for bring up fear and intimidation. I experienced it when I was in NU and it is a piss poor method of managing.

#10. Posted by Inuk Person on May 30, 2018

I heard from a Nunavut Arctic College employee that they recently received an email stating that they are not to invite elected officials unless it goes through proper chain of command and then the President sign it. Afterwards, they can take proper action.

It must be quite appalling to be told to refrain from communicating!

#11. Posted by Democratic Governance 101 on May 30, 2018

Public Servants are citizens, and have the right to make their political voices heard.

However, the goal of a neutral public service is to carry out the policy mandate set by the government of the day (Cabinet).

This is why public servants are bound by an Oath of Office and Confidentiality, and, typically, a written ethical Code, both of which impose a duty of loyalty, and a duty to keep confidential government information, well, confidential (i.e. not shared beyond the Government).

There are processes in place for addressing ethical issues.  If a person has a serious ethical concern and has tried to address it internally but hit a brick wall, then the GN has external avenues.

To be clear, information divulged to an MLA is no longer “internal”. This is because regular members do not form part of the Government.  The Government of the day is comprised of the Executive Council (Cabinet).

#12. Posted by Good didea on May 30, 2018

Maybe then all GN workers should not be able to vote during the elections? You vote you should be able to talk to the elected person.

#13. Posted by both ways on May 30, 2018

I agree with George but I also think that this paranoia from senior staff is partly warranted. Nunavummiut complain so much, sometimes it’s legitamit (there are many injustices here) but sometimes it’s complaining just to complain. It’s so tiring to hear these same people nitpick everything. It’s hilarious to see the same people on Rant and Rave go on and on about nothing.

If you’re going to complain and make your voice heard, make sure it’s something worth complaining about and not just your random annoyance of the day.

#14. Posted by Frank on May 30, 2018

What is this…there is an HR policy that speaks to this stuff. Its really simple. The GN has a reputation to uphold and as an employee one cannot bad your employer. There is also a process within HR for filing a complaint and a whistblower policy. Get on with it Hicks.

#15. Posted by peter on May 30, 2018

This is just gossip. There are avenues of recourse for any GN employee be that the union, human resources or the whistleblower. The empoloyee has a legal duty to the employer which is the GN. Read the HRM Hicks.

#16. Posted by pootoogook on May 30, 2018

This is hogwash!
In a democracy ALL people are free to approach their MLA.
Many Southerners may feel differently but us northerners know it may be our Auntie, our Brother, or our Cousin so we go and talk to him or her.
Also, this keeps everyone on their toes, through this kind of ‘openness’ which is an Inuit Value.
Southerners, please feel free to join us.

#17. Posted by Union Dues on May 30, 2018

I thought my vote was for a politician to represent my constituency, didn’t realize I was voting for my Union representative - wrong ballot. Re-direct my Union dues to my MLA.  They seem to be more interested in representing GN employees rather than dealing with the real issues affecting us.  Let the unions do their job George, we are paying them very well. Taima!

#18. Posted by Franklin on May 31, 2018

What and why is everyone complaining? It’s widespread throughout every Nunavut community and continuing to get worst as GN is so biased about who should be employed in each community. It’s too bad the people elected officials don’t have a word for the constituents who voted them in to do just that.  What a conglomeration of unethical people Nunavut government has adopted. The elected people who should be working together as a government don’t have a say . It’s for sure Nunavut government has issues and continue to get worse over time .....especially useless spending to try and come up with a working plan spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that they can implement on their own people’s, what about teleconferences instead of going for lavish parties flying and putting everyone in hotels at the cost of nunavumiut? DUH…..

#19. Posted by Worm on May 31, 2018

People have to remember that the regular members in the Legislative Assembly in Nunavut are like members of the opposition, to feed them information about wrong doing within the government is wrong as it violates the employee’s obligations of loyalty to the government in power.

#20. Posted by Former GN Employee on May 31, 2018

Never was it said to me that I could not contact my MLA while being bullied by senior staff at work; the beauty (sarcasm)of the situation is that nothing like that needs to be said because the work environment at the GN is such that you clearly know, without a doubt, that speaking out in any way you will be excluded from work projects and meetings, endure personal attacks, bullying and hearsay and risk having the situation snowball to much worse. Even fear losing your job.

Just because there are processes and policies in place does not mean that there is a way to escape bullying by management. What good are processes if people are being intimidated and threatened when they attempt to follow them?

It’s really sad that bullying in the GN is such a common occurrence that it becomes an issue at the legislative sittings. Workers are powerless in these types of situations every time. Toxic GN management.

#21. Posted by Observer on May 31, 2018

#20 you ar right on I also am an ex GN employee was for 10 years and I couldn’t have written it better you experience is exactly like mine. It got to the point that a colleague committed suicide and it was recommended that I leave the territory. it is sad that management cover for these malicious abusers at the cost of loosing good workers…sad really and no accountability from the big wig bullies

#22. Posted by Jeff on May 31, 2018

GN is a snakepit. So many employees that couldn’t get jobs if they were in any other part of Canada. The worst depts are Health, CGS and Fam Services. Charter a flight(s) and send them all back to where they came from and give their jobs to Nunavummiut.

#23. Posted by Change on May 31, 2018

Create a Public Service Commission.  It’s time the Politicians stop meddling into day to day operations of Government.  Change is needed!

#24. Posted by Transparent Review of All Settlements on May 31, 2018

the elected officials should open the books of all Minutes of Settlement buy out agreements HR staff cooked up for getting rid of GN workers.

Although, the bigger problem, the right to choose (union with a collective agreement full of holes) in bed with the right to manage (GN staff in Finance)

#25. Posted by Finance on June 01, 2018

Finance needs to stop being in charge of personnel. Finance should be in charge of money, period. You need people with PEOPLE as their priority to run Employee Relations/ HR.

Example: at the Leg this week, there’s been loads of talk about GN Employees being provided with Inuktitut Language Training. No teachers have access to this training. Why not? Apparently, it’s not worth it to pay for substitutes, even to train teachers to speak Inuktitut, or to improve Inuktitut skills for those who already have them.

#26. Posted by I agree with Change on June 01, 2018

I couldn’t agree more with #23. Hopefully this message gets across to the politicians in Nunavut. Stop meddling in the day to day operations of the Government. Too many times I’ve heard we can’t do x because the Minister or Opposition or someone else sitting at the Leg might not like it. Guess what none of the politicians in Nunavut are experts on the Departments they are responsible for they’re only bureaucrats.

#27. Posted by "Same Old Song" on June 02, 2018

#23 you are right - we need to establish a Public Service Commission like every other Province and Territory.
We also need an actual Hospital Board too. Governments do not run hospitals, Boards do.
We also require a Police Oversight Board made up of concerned citizens.
Why are these Boards not in place Paul and Pat and Jeannie?

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