Below are my comments that I gave on the floor of the house on October 18, 2017 regarding the motion of revocation of appointment of Minsiter Sebert to the Executive Council.
Mr. Speaker, I regret that I must rise in this House today to speak about revoking the appointment of a Minister of our government. As MLAs, all of us made this pledge when we took office. I quote, “I will do my best to fulfill my duties to the Legislature, the public, my constituents, and my colleagues within integrity and honour.”
We also pledged to earn, through our actions, the confidence of the people. We each made this solemn oath as Members and as it applies to our work here, whether as a Member or as a Minister. All 19 Members elected our Cabinet Ministers, who must also work hard to earn our ongoing confidence. Today we are considering our confidence in a single Minister, Mr. Sebert, but the motion before us stems not only from his decisions, but the decisions of the entire Cabinet.
During our Mid-Term Review, all Members, including Cabinet and the Speaker, had a secret ballot vote to express confidence in each Minister. Even so, every single Minister stated publicly that, if they received a vote of non-confidence, they would refuse to resign their position.
Mr. Sebert and the rest of Cabinet may be within their rights to ignore or disregard the results of the confidence vote, but that doesn’t make it right. That course of action goes against the spirit and intent of the Mid-Term Review, a public review we adopted as an Assembly to increase the accountability of Cabinet and strengthen consensus government. Mr. Sebert’s choice further eroded my confidence in his leadership ability, his dedication to public accountability, and, frankly, the future of consensus government.
Consensus government comes under fire all the time. That is why principled leadership, accountability, and transparency are so important for our Assembly. It is a crucial part of any Minister or Regular Member’s performance. Critical aspects of this are in Mr. Sebert’s hands as the Minister responsible for Public Engagement and Transparency. In his campaign speech for a ministerial job, he pledged his support for accountability.
Mr. Speaker, above all, we have to have principled leadership, and yet during our Mid-Term Review Mr. Sebert said, and I quote, “If Members opposite wish to remove us, they can do so in an open vote.”
Mr. Speaker, the Mid-Term Review process was designed for all Members, not just Regular Members. The reality is that Cabinet Ministers will not vote freely in an open vote on a revocation motion. The Speaker is unable to vote unless there is a tie.
Today, we are dealing with a revocation motion because the Minister refuses to be accountable except on his own terms. Those same terms are preferred by Cabinet. We are not here considering this motion as some frivolous revolt. We are here because of Cabinet’s collective decision to ignore a vote of non-confidence. In no other form of democracy, consensus or otherwise, does a non-confidence vote suggest that I will continue to work with you towards improvement or that I will give you a second chance or that this was a friendly warning. No. no, Mr. Speaker. Non-confidence means as it suggests: I have lost my confidence in you.
For my part, I will vote today as I voted on October 5. My vote was and will always be based on what I believe results in the best government for the people we represent. We were elected to make hard choices with integrity. The majority of Members of this Assembly made such a choice on October 5 by expressing non-confidence in one Minister.
In my view, there are many reasons for that result, but I would like to outline just a few. When Mr. Sebert ran for his Cabinet position, he supported universal daycare and noted it would lead to a stronger economy, but during the recent review of our mandate, Minister Sebert supported the removal of that promise.
Mr. Sebert is also Minister of Justice, yet his performance on family violence issues is lacking. The continuation of A New Day Men’s Healing Program was completely mishandled. An established program was wiped out as a result of broken partnerships with the provider, the Coalition Against Family Violence, and Members who raised this issue time and time again.
Failure to work with people in the field resulted in a new provider for A New Day, a provider that was hand-picked by the government without consultation or a chance for others to bid on a contract. On October 5, Mr. Sebert said, “The changes made improved the program. The transition to the new service provider has been smooth.” To be kind, I will suggest the Minister’s handling of this whole affair has been anything but smooth. I have no confidence the Minister is working productively with the Coalition Against Family Violence.
Let’s turn as we have today to the rehabilitation of those serving sentences in our correctional centres. Under Mr. Sebert’s leadership, inmates have reached the boiling point and have begun to protest. “Unprecedented” is the word Mr. Sebert used to describe the situation. We have a flood of letters from 70 inmates complaining about lack of programming, removal of the recreation director, and lack of access to educational upgrading. Mr. Speaker, denying inmates the tools they need to change their lives flies in the face of everything we are trying to achieve as an Assembly.
The protest should have come as no surprise to the Minister. These very issues were raised by the Auditor General in his review of NWT corrections in 2015. The Auditor General pointed to inadequate delivery of rehabilitation programs and serious deficiencies in case management for inmates, and yet Mr. Sebert claims that 95 per cent of the Auditor General’s recommendations have been carried out. Surely, if 95 per cent of the recommendations have been carried out, we would not have numerous letters from inmates reaching out for help.
As justice Minister, one of Mr. Sebert’s jobs is to ensure that necessary legislation is written, sent to committees for review, and then considered in this Assembly. So far, legislation appears to be seriously behind schedule. For example, to improve government services for people of the Northwest Territories, our mandate called for legislation to establish an independent ombudsman within two years. We have not seen it yet.
Another issue of great concern to every resident and business in the Northwest Territories is power rates and the operation of the NWT Power Corporation. What has been achieved? For starters, rates in Yellowknife are still going up with no end in sight, while in Hay River their rates were promised to be lowered by up to 30 per cent. That promise killed a 30-year relationship with Northland Utilities at a time when Northland Utilities was offering to explore ways to control rising electricity prices. Instead, there appeared to be a plan to take the private sector out of the electricity market.
In addition, governance of the Power Corporation took a step backward when the independent public representative board was dismissed and replaced by a bevy of deputy ministers. I find this particularly frustrating coming from the Minister Responsible for Public Engagement and Transparency. We have since seen no improvement in the operation of the Power Corporation, which paid millions of dollars to buy diesel generators from a questionable American supplier. Years later, we are finally seeing three of the five generators arrive while incurring extra costs and having no indication when the remaining two will, if ever, arrive. Again, Mr. Speaker, very discouraging, and none of this inspires my confidence.
So far, I have raised a few big issues and challenges that, in my view, the Minister has failed to address and meet. I wish I could say he is better at dealing with the small stuff. Instead, removal of a derelict barge that is now having an impact on the environment in a nature preserve on Yellowknife’s waterfront seems to be beyond the reach of the Minister’s influence. The situation with the owner is a legal one, and I understand that, but the matter of removing the barge should have been straightforward, Mr. Speaker. It should not have required a campaign by residents and questions in this House to trigger some action, yet here we are, still waiting for its removal.
Mr. Speaker, these are a few of my reasons for not supporting Mr. Sebert continuing as a Minister. I mean no disrespect to him. It is not at all personal. I recognize that all portfolios are a challenge and can be difficult to manage, and I thank him for his service despite the difficulties in delivering the goods. I should make it clear: if any other Cabinet Minister were facing a revocation motion, I would apply the same level of scrutiny to their performance.
This brings me back to the need to make difficult decisions, the need for sound, driven leadership and accountability. There is also the issue of our own integrity. At least 10 of 19 MLAs, maybe more, expressed non-confidence in this Minister by secret ballot. That is a very significant threshold, representing the majority of Members. If we are truly accountable and transparent to those who elected us, we should now be consistent in a public vote.
For me, it is a matter of integrity. In the last election campaign, we all received the message from voters: they want open and accountable government. I campaigned on that, and I have continued to work towards it. As far as I am concerned, we all promised the people of the Northwest Territories an accountable, open, and transparent government. The Mid-Term Review, including a secret ballot confidence vote, was a part of that promise. Now the decision of Cabinet to ignore the non-confidence vote reneges on that promise.
Mr. Speaker, when I go out in my riding next week and when I go to my constituents in the next election campaign, I will be able to say that I worked as hard as I could to support accountability and openness in this government. I will be able to say that I stayed true to my word.
Mr. Speaker, we have to focus on getting the job done for the people of the Northwest Territories no matter how hard the job is. We have a tremendous load of work to do in the two years remaining in our term. If we are to succeed, we need every Minister to be held to the highest level of account.
Those are my comments, Mr. Speaker. I will be voting in support of the motion.