For the Record
The Lahm Ridge Tower affair: public debate or smear campaign?
Last week, Premier Don Morin challenged MLAs to either make a formal conflict of interest complaint against him, or to drop their incessant questions about a lucractive GNWT lease awarded to two of his close associates.
Statement by Premier Don Morin, Wednesday, February 4
Minister’s Statement 40-13(5): Lahm Ridge Tower Lease
HON. DON MORIN:Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to tell you that I am fed up with the speculation and innuendo which is being repeated in this building, in the press, and on the street about the Lahm Ridge Tower lease.
This is damaging the reputation of not only myself as your premier but to cabinet and the legislature as a whole. It is also damaging and disrespectful to senior managers in the Government of the Northwest Territories and private citizens and it is untrue.
First, Mr. Speaker, I categorically deny any wrongdoing or interference in the Lahm Ridge Tower lease by myself, my cabinet colleagues and by my deputy ministers.
Second, the lease extension was and is a good deal for this government. But you know this, all the information has been put on the table.
The minister of public works and services has tabled a chronology of events regarding the Lahm Ridge Tower office lease in this assembly. The minister and deputy minister of public works and services have been candid and forthright in responding to questions on this issue. Despite this, rumours and innuendo continue to flow.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, we do have a process to deal with citizen’s concerns about conflict of interest.
I challenge the member from Hay River or any one else who may believe there is wrongdoing to file a complaint against me with the conflict of interest commissioner, that is, if they have the guts and political backbone, and if not, let’s get on with the business of good government. Thank you.
Excerpts from Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen’s reply, Wednesday, February 4
Member’s Statement 156-13(5): Lahm Ridge Tower Lease
MRS. GROENEWEGEN:Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to thank the honourable premier for his statement. Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the premier’s statement. The speculation [and] innuendos that are being repeated are being repeated in far more places than in this building and in the press.
I am sorry if this innuendo is damaging to anyone’s reputation, because it should not be. Mr. Speaker, I did not create this situation that is being spoken out and questioned. I am merely trying to ask questions to clear up the perception that was out there, long before I started asking questions in this house.
Mr. Speaker, I have an obligation to raise the concerns and questions of my constituents in this house. I have tried to capture these concerns in my questions, which I believe have been fair questions.
The premier states, “and it is untrue”. What is untrue, Mr. Speaker? All of the events that have been questioned are real events.
We have only been seeking details and further information. Maybe the lease extension was a good deal. We can still ask about it, cannot we?
It would be damaging to our reputation as elected officials if we did not respond to the concerns of our constituents. Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to ensure you that the member from Hay River lacks no guts and in spite of being called to the premier’s office, with the assistant deputy minister as the premier’s witness, and the premier outlining that he would take appropriate action if I crossed the lines of impropriety in my search for answers.
I still, Mr. Speaker, adhere to my fundamental right to ask respectful questions in this house, and I will continue to do so.
I also would like to inform the premier that I have no intention of filing a conflict of interest complaint against anyone at this time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco’s reply, Thursday, February 5
Member’s Statement 168-13(5): Questions Posed in the House
MR. PICCO:Thank you Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the issue of questioning in this House.
As an ordinary MLA, it is our job to provide a counter to the cabinet and to support the government in its job as it directs government business.
Politicians quickly think twice when a tough issue presents itself. For example, abortion or capital punishment. The same sex benefits vote caused such a situation in this assembly earlier.
We are elected to take a stand. The public does not want members to back away from something because it is controversial and in this house we have seen that with questions on the Keewatin health care, the Aurora Fund or the Lahm Ridge Tower issues.
The whole idea of a legislative assembly or democracy, is the right of free speech and the ability as an elected member to ask questions.
Many times questions have been answered in committee, but those meetings are not open to the public and thus it is accepted that a question put to the government on a particular topic may be to allow the public the opportunity to hear the answer for the first time.
Mr. Speaker, I have been criticized in the past by some of my colleagues for asking too many questions. I have been told that the things I have said outside this house could be construed as libelous.
Mr. Speaker, I have been told that things published in the paper, although not directly attributed to me, could have been slanderous. I have been told that certain Internet forum writers could be me and the statements made by those writing might be a case of defamation.
Mr. Speaker, for the past couple of months, I have questioned many of the things I might have said. Mr. Speaker, I have thought twice about asking certain questions in this house because it might upset or cause me problems.
Mr. Speaker, in speaking to one of my colleagues, and my friends back home, they informed me that I was experiencing a case of libel chill. Mr. Speaker, it could prove fatal.
Mr. Speaker, I have tried to be honest in my questions. I have tried to offer constructive criticism and will continue to raise questions and represent my community to the best of my abilities.
Mr. Speaker, libel chill may be fatal, but not representing my constituents or the people of the Northwest Territories by asking questions and helping keep government accountable is also fatal. That, Mr.Speaker, is not acceptable. Thank you.
Excerpts from Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes’ replay, Friday, February 6
Member’s Statement 175-13(5): Premier’s Statement Regarding Lahm Ridge Tower Questions
MR. OOTES:Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my concern about the premier’s statement of February 4, regarding the questioning by ordinary members over the Lahm Ridge Tower lease.
Mr. Speaker, the premier’s statement caused me concern as an ordinary member. He challenged the member for Hay River to file a conflict of interest complaint.
I can only conclude that we have fundamentally different views on the rights and obligations of government and ordinary members. As the premier said, we do have processes outside of this House for dealing with citizens’ concerns, in fact we have several, we have courts and commissioners and adjudicators.
As he said, it is true that anyone may make a complaint to the conflict of interest commissioner.
I have the greatest of respect for these institutions, but Mr. Speaker we have another process, one that goes back centuries.
It is called democracy. Democracy means responsible government, and that means that those individuals not in a governing position have a responsibility to question and be a sober second thought.
Responsible government means several things, but foremost, to me it means that ministers of government are accountable to the people through their elected representatives, the ordinary members of this House.
Government must be fair and just and it must be seen to be fair and just. There are few opportunities for government to directly answer questions to the people, questions of the people.
If there are rumours and innuendo and if the rumours are misconceived, I would have thought that the government would welcome the opportunity to clear up the misconceptions. Instead the Premier chose to challenge one of the members.
Mr. Speaker, whether or not government welcomes this opportunity, ordinary members will continue to ask questions in this house, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for government.
It is our responsibility and our duty as ordinary members. We will continue to exercise our duty. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Editor’s note: The above statements are taken from unedited issues of the NWT Hansard.