Crawford to Premier: I won’t step aside
Anne Crawford is pressing forward with her investigation of Jane Groenewegen’s conflict of interest complaint against Premier Don Morin.
IQALUIT – The NWT’s conflict of interest commissioner, Anne Crawford, says she won’t step aside from a conflict of interest complaint made Feb. 16 against Premier Don Morin by Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen.
In a March 10 letter, Morin’s lawyers had asked Crawford to step aside, saying Morin “has a reasonable apprehension that you will perform your duties in a biased manner.”
But Crawford rejected all three of the reasons offered by Morin’s lawyers in support of that claim.
Morin’s lawyers’ reasons were:
* In 1995, as a member of a commission of inquiry looking into a conflict of interest complaint made against Morin in 1994 by Thebacha MLA Jeannie Marie-Jewell, Crawford made a comment to Morin’s sister that “Mr. Morin may have been cleared of any wrong doing but that he was not innocent…”
* Crawford does legal work for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. Morin’s lawyers said NTI President Jose Kusugak “has made numerous critical and politically directed statements against Mr. Morin.”
* Morin’s lawyers say the complaint lodged by Jane Groenewegen contains “no specific allegation of a contravention of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act.” They say that by not dismissing the complain immediately, Crawford shows bias in “allowing the process to continue.”
In responding to Morin’s first point, Crawford said she can’t remember the conversation with Morin’s sister, and that Morin has supplied no evidence to prove that it took place.
Morin wrote to Crawford
Morin had also written to Crawford about the conversation on Feb. 18, only two days after Groenewegen had filed her complaint against him.
“He has chosen once again to submit an allegation which provides no name, no date, no place, no context and no actual quote,” Crawford said.
As for her legal work on behalf of Nunavut Tunngavik, Crawford said that when they appointed her, members of the legislative assembly knew that she has to do legal work to make a living.
“The position of Commissioner is a four-year term position, without retainer and paid on a modest hourly basis,” Crawford said. “There is no pension. I am not likely to quit my day job.”
She said MLAs also knew that, in her career, she’s done work for the Dene Nation, the Metis Nation, the Native Women’s Association and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.
“They viewed my many connections to an active community territory-wide as an asset,” Crawford said.
She also said that she’s not required to share one client’s information with another. “Each client is entitled to absolute confidentiality,” Crawford said.
Crawford rejected Morin’s third reason by saying that, “It would appear that, in Mr. Morin’s opinion, any activity other than dismissing the complaint out of hand will constitute bias.”
Crawford said Groenewegen’s complaint lacks detail – which is why she sent Groenewegen a letter on Feb. 17 asking eleven questions to help “define the scope of the complaint.”
Groenewegen gets lawyer
Groenewegen said she needed legal help to decide what answers she could and couldn’t submit to Crawford, and that the legislative assembly’s management committee had refused to help her pay for a lawyer.
Groenewegen then made a request to Crawford for legal help – a request that Crawford granted in a decision released March 18.
During the last legislative assembly session, Groenewegen told MLAs that Morin – in the presence of the NWT’s deputy minister of justice – has threatened to sue her for defamation. She also suggested that she has received threats from other sources.
Crawford says she expects that Groenewegen – now that she has a lawyer – will soon be able to provide the specific details requested of her.
Once she has answers to those questions, and other questions that she has put to Morin, Crawford says she will then be able to make a judgement under section 81 (2) of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act.
In plain language, that means she’ll decide whether or not Groenewegen’s complaint is “vexatious, frivolous, in bad faith or insufficient.”
If she decides that the Groenewegen’s complaint is serious, then Crawford can decide whether or not to hold a public hearing.
Lawyers meet in Edmonton this week
In a press release issued this week, Crawford said she was to have met with lawyers representing Morin, Groenewegen and the Conflict of Interest Commission in Edmonton on March 24.
The press release said the purpose of the meeting is “to obtain commitments as to dates and process to conclude the 81 (2) evaluation.”
Groenewegen filed her conflict of interest complaint Feb. 16, alleging that Morin has violated the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act.
In the weeks before that, Groenewegen and several other MLAs had been peppering cabinet ministers about a lease extension signed between the GNWT and a numbered company controlled by two of Morin’s associates.
The numbered company is controlled by businessman Mike Mrdjenovich, from whom Morin rents a house, and former deputy minister of the executive Roland Bailey, who runs the Aurora immigrant investor fund under a contract.
The Bailey-Mrdjenovich company bought the Lahm Ridge office tower in Yellowknife for $1.6 million less than its estimated market value, signed a long-term lease with the GNWT that the previous owner had apparently been unable to negotiate, and financed the deal with a mortgage from the Pacific and Western Trust Corporation.
Pacific and Western holds 25 per cent of the Aurora fund’s assets in liquid securities.
In her Feb. 16 announcement, Groenewegen makes no mention of the Lahm Ridge lease.
But she did say that “public confidence in the integrity of this government has been eroded and I believe that the premier’s office must address the issue.”