Iqaluit MLA cries foul over public service intimidation allegation

“Muzzles and gag orders are not healthy for our government”


Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes delivering his member's statement in the legislative assembly March 18. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes delivering his member’s statement in the legislative assembly March 18. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Government of Nunavut employees shouldn’t be afraid to talk to their MLAs.

That’s the message from Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes, who is upset about an incident that took place earlier this week.

“I’m not going to get into particulars, but basically somebody that’s close to me, it was assumed, had given me some type of insider information on a line of question that I had,” Hickes told Nunatsiaq News in his description of the incident.

On March 17 Hickes questioned health minister Monica Ell about support for graduates from Nunavut’s nursing program, and efforts to keep nurses in the territory.

That’s when a person — who Hickes doesn’t want to name — accused Hickes of getting insider information and told a government supervisor about it.

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Hickes adamantly denies the allegation.

“What really worries me about this — there are members of the public service that are concerned to even be seen speaking to members of the legislative [assembly].”

The incident set Hickes off on a rant in the legislative assembly March 18 about how public employees ought to feel free to speak to MLAs without fear of consequences.

“Muzzles and gag orders are not healthy for our government and they’re not healthy for this legislative assembly,” Hickes said in a members’ statement March 18.

Hickes on March 19 asked Keith Peterson, the minister responsible for the Public Service Act, if the act allows government employees to communicate with elected members.

“There’s nothing in the public service act that prevents employees from communicating with their MLAs,” Peterson said. “Threats, intimidation, bullying is unacceptable in this government.”

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Peterson added there’s nothing in the code of values and ethics to prevent public servants from talking to members of the legislature either.

“However the employees should be aware of what the code allows them to say and not to say,” Peterson said. “There are some restrictions on what government of Nunavut employees can say.”

Hickes said it’s important to recognize when public servants want to have discussions with MLAs, and when they feel bound to disclose potential wrongdoings in the workplace.

Peterson said the public service act was amended to include an ethics officer “so that people can report wrongdoing if they believe it occurs.”

That amendment is supposed to come into force in April 2015, Peterson said.

Hickes said that he’s received a lot of support since making his member’s statement.

“I’ve talked to a number of ministers, a number of regular members, and they’re appalled at the circumstance that did occur,” Hickes said.

“And I’m hoping that every minister within this government has directed their deputy ministers to direct their staff to make sure that an occurrence of intimidation like this never happens again.”

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