MLAs disappointed by cabinet review

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS
Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT Two days of grilling cabinet ministers on their performances during the past two years didn’t accomplish what many MLAs had set out to do.

“We really needed a week,” said Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’Brien.

The formal review got off to a tense start last Wednesday as Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco questioned Premier Don Morin about his minister’s evasiveness when answering questions in the legislative assembly.

“Will the premier direct his ministers and himself to try and answer questions in the House in a serious and constructive way without the excess verbiage?” Picco asked.

Morin’s response that Picco’s question was “not worth answering” sparked an angry rejoinder from Picco.

“My question to the premier was, will he take those questions seriously and not in a flippant manner?” he asked.

“I am not asking him in a flippant manner. I am asking him in a serious manner. His response to me, Mr. Chairman, as you just heard, was, ‘I do not think that was a serious question, I will not answer it.’ It was a serious question and I am asking it seriously. I am not going to repeat it.”

Chairman John Ningark interrupted, asking for order and telling the members to relax. It was the beginning of two full days of gruelling questions.

Process off-track?

In the end, O’Brien said MLAs didn’t accomplish what they’d needed to in the review.

“Because of the number of problems we’re facing and the major issues at this time, it turned out to be and this is not disrespectful of the process but it turned out to be a marathon question-and-answer period.”

He said some MLAs “got off the track” when they used the forum to get answers they’d been unable to get from cabinet ministers during normal daily question periods.

“It was like they were eager to get information they found difficult in getting before,” O’Brien said.

He added the ministers at the bottom of the list, such as Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Manitok Thompson, were questioned less because members found themselves unable to keep up with the rigorous pace they’d set for themselves, especially as the sessions creeped into the wee hours of the morning.

Picco agreed the process was flawed.

“We were planning it for two or three weeks, but logistically it didn’t go the way we thought it would,” he said.

MLAs not focused?

And MLAs may not have been as focused as in the past.

“There was no movement to take any minister out of cabinet,” Picco said. “I didn’t see anything to take them out for. That wasn’t there. In previous times they were after a minister and they took him out in that type of format.”

Picco said continous meetings before and during the cabinet review wore down members’ stamina.

“A lot of the members didn’t have as much time to prepare for it as much as we should have or would have liked to.”

He suggested meetings not be held prior to, or during, future cabinet reviews.

A 17-hour day

Both ordinary members and cabinet ministers had agreed on the process that the review would begin on Wednesday and run for two days. But instead of normal hours, the sessions extended into the early hours of the morning with Thursday’s sitting alone running for 17 hours.

“It’s pretty hard to sit there for 17 hours straight and keep your questions focused,” Picco said.

In fact, the review was taking so long that, part way through, the number of questions each member was allowed to ask cabinet ministers was reduced from eight to four to speed up the process.

Ootes: review worthwhile

During Friday’s session, Yellowknife Central MLA Jake Ootes said the review was a success, despite what other MLAs may have thought. Ootes is chair of the assembly’s ordinary members’ caucus.

“For some, if not many, the mid-term review process was a worthwhile undertaking,” said Ootes, referring to comments made by Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger that he’d hoped the process was a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yes, it is straining and very stressful at times,” Ootes said. “I understand that. I do not think we should pat ourselves on the back just because we sat here for seventeen hours. That is our job to bring forward. We had all agreed it would be done over two days. We could not change it.”

Picco said after Friday’s session ended in the late afternoon, many members left Yellowknife for their home communities.

“There wasn’t really much chance to sit down and review how it went and do a debriefing,” he said.

Ordinary MLAs will get the opportunity to do that, however, next month when they return to Yellowknife.

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