Former N.W.T. MLAs get $70K for retraining, 'wealth planning' on top of 1 year's salary

Eight former Northwest Territories MLAs tapped into a publicly-funded retraining assistance program to cover a variety of pursuits following their time in the 17th legislative assembly — at a total cost of about $70,000.

Retraining Assistance Program For Non-returning Members meant to help MLAs transition to private life

Norman Yakeleya, the former MLA for the Sahtu, centre, receives a certificate from the children of motivational speaker Les Brown in Los Angeles, California, in May 2016. Yakeleya received funding to attend talks given by Brown from the publicly-funded Retraining Assistance Program For Non-returning Members. (submitted by Norman Yakeleya)

A two-day trip to Los Angeles to watch a man who bills himself as the world's leading motivational speaker.

A one-week crash course in Toronto on how to start a renewable energy cooperative.

"Wealth planning."

Eight former Northwest Territories MLAs tapped into a publicly-funded retraining assistance program to cover a variety of pursuits following their time in the 17th legislative assembly — at a total cost to taxpayers of about $70,000.

Under the assembly's Retraining Assistance Program For Non-returning Members, former MLAs who were either defeated during the 2015 election or chose not to run again could each apply for varying amounts (up to $12,000) based on how many years they served as an MLA.

The money is to help them "in their transition from public to private life," as the handbook for MLAs puts it. It comes on top of a transition allowance of a year's salary.

The legislative assembly's Board of Management has approved funding of just over $70,000 under the retraining program for former MLAs from the 17th assembly. (CBC)

The funding, once approved by the Board of Management — which is made up of current MLAs — pays for consulting services for starting a new business; financial and retirement counselling; courses and training to help former politicians gain new skills; and travel costs. Recipients have two years to use the funding.

Program's popularity has grown

When the program launched in 2011, only one MLA, Mackenzie Delta representative David Krutko, was approved for $10,000.

But the program has since caught on.

Of the 11 MLAs in the 17th assembly who retired or were not re-elected, eight applied and were approved for combined funding of $70,381.16.

Here's a breakdown of who asked for how much, and for what, in the order the applications were received.

Note: CBC News reported in July 2016 about the first three applications submitted by Robert Bouchard, David Ramsay and Michael Miltenberger. 

Norman Yakeleya

Former riding: Sahtu

Terms served: 3 (12 years)

Eligible for: up to $10,000

Approved for: $10,000

Yakeleya spent 12 years addressing crowds and fellow MLAs in the legislative assembly, becoming known for his loquacious style.

After deciding not to run for a fourth term for health reasons, Yakeleya wanted to start "a new chapter" as a public speaker.

Using his credit card, he paid for both a John T. Maxwell Co. online course meant to teach leadership skills and also registered for the three-day Landmark Forum in Calgary in January 2016.

"It has you look at the type of life that you want to create and the life that you want to aspire to," he says of the forum.

He didn't know about the retraining assistance program at the time of those purchases, he says, which is why he only applied to it the following May. (Program users are supposed to make their funding requests before they take courses.)

His May application included a new request, too: could he go to Los Angeles later that month to watch world-famous motivational speaker Les Brown, in order to sharpen his own public speaking skills?

"I never thought in my life that there'd be a day and time where I'd go to Los Angeles and train with one of the best speakers of the world," says Yakeleya.  

Yakeleya's course and trips cost $12,724.97. The board unanimously approved him for $10,000, the maximum amount of training money available per person at the time. (The limit has since been increased to $12,000.)

"It's sitting there," Yakeleya says of the program. "I mean... I had bills on my credit card and I said, 'Well, I'll take the risk.' The board could have said no."

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Yakeleya, 58, says he wants to begin telling his story — about growing up poor in a crowded house and going to residential school — at conferences and other events. He's hosting a workshop on suicide prevention in Norman Wells next week. 

"We all have a story and how do you tell that story so it gives hope to other young people in similar situations?" he says.

The policy for the retraining program says former MLAs "whose conduct is such that it brings discredit to their office or to the legislative assembly" can't receive assistance.

Yakeleya had the worst attendance record among MLAs in the last assembly.

Michael Miltenberger

Former riding: Thebacha

Terms served: 5 (20 years)

Eligible for: up to $12,000

Approved for: $3,995

Miltenberger, who has launched a consulting business, North Raven, made his second request for funding in June 2016.

That money allowed Miltenberger to attend Yale University's three-day "Sustainability Leadership Forum" in New Haven, Connecticut the following September.

"I was environment minister for nine years," he says. "My work that I've started doing after leaving politics is tied in many cases to environmental issues. I'm interested in the work and the thinking at that higher level. There were people from all over the world. And I figured even at my age, I could still benefit from what's going on."

Michael Miltenberger defends the retraining program, saying it's especially helpful for younger people with many more years of work ahead of them. (CBC)

Miltenberger says the trip cost a lot more in total than the money the board approved.

"The tuition fee alone, if I remember correctly, was almost $3,500 or $4,000 — American," he says, adding that the majority of the trip's cost came out of his pocket.

Miltenberger, 65, encourages MLAs to use the retraining assistance program and says it's especially crucial for younger MLAs returning to private life.

"I know for a fact that, in some cases, when former politicians apply for jobs in government, it can be difficult getting your foot back in the door, because during the course of your job you may have made tough decisions on budgets or programs that have caused heartburn for people who haven't forgotten."

Robert Hawkins

Former riding: Yellowknife Centre

Terms served: 3 (12 years)

Eligible for: up to $12,000

Approved for: $11,998.50

Since losing his bid for re-election, Hawkins has launched a Yellowknife-based property management business, Apex Property Management. (He's also stepped in as temporary executive director of the John Howard Society.)

Hawkins told the board that, to help him "move forward successfully", he planned to take several courses under two education programs.

Robert Hawkins, former MLA for Yellowknife Centre, was approved funds to help pay for home inspection and real estate training. (CBC)

One program, from the Real Estate Council of Alberta, costs an estimated $4,050 and includes classes such as "Fundamentals of Real Estate." The other program, from the Alberta arm of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, is expected to cost $5,568.50.

Combined with estimated travel costs of $2,380, Hawkins' total request comes at $11,998.50.

"The travel component as and when necessary is an assumption at this time, noting that both program providers require exams and peer reviews," Hawkins wrote in his request for funding to the board last October.

"In some cases the exams will be required to be administered outside the territory if a local proctor is not available. And as such, predicting the availability of a proctor over the next two years will be challenging."

Hawkins did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Daryl Dolynny

Former riding: Range Lake (Yellowknife)

Terms served: 1 (4 years)

Eligible for: up to $4,000

Approved for: $3,990

Before serving his first and only term as an MLA from 2012 to 2015, Dolynny, together with his wife, purchased Yellowknife's Shoppers Drug Mart franchise in 1992.

Dolynny, who did not respond to requests for comment, requested funding to help pay for the cost of "financial retirement counselling and wealth planning," as the board described it.

Daryl Dolynny's funding request letter began with the line "Hoping this letter finds you and the Board of Management in good health and in approbatory [approving] collective spirit." (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Dolynny received a service quote of $3,990 from Edmonton-based Bosch Campbell Investment Management before asking for the retraining funding three weeks before the Nov. 26 deadline. 

The opening line of Dolynny's funding request was seemingly at odds with his admission later in the letter that he "weighed and measured heavily throughout the past year" whether to tap into the program given the "potential public scrutiny."

"Hoping this letter finds you and the Board of Management in good health and in approbatory [approving] collective spirit," he wrote. 

Bob Bromley

Former riding: Weledeh

Terms served: 2 (8 years)

Eligible for: up to $8,000

Approved for: $5096.25

Bromley says he plans to use the majority of the funds to travel to the office of the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative in April. The goal? To get a one-week crash course in how to launch a similar cooperative in the Northwest Territories.

"I'm not expecting to make a lot of money on this," he says.

Bob Bromley, former MLA for Weledeh, plans to use a large part of the funds to learn how to launch a renewable energy cooperative in the territory. (CBC)

"For me it was just a rare opportunity for me to extend my interests and continue to put my energy into the same sorts of goals," he adds.

Bromley says he's going to TREC's office in Toronto because formal education in how to launch a cooperative is tough to find in Canada.

Just over a quarter of his funding, $1,496.25, will pay for retirement planning advice from Victoria-based Raymond James Ltd.

Bromley, who reached the Canadian age of retirement in 2015, says he didn't have any qualms about applying to the program.

"Other than my retirement planning, what I was requesting, and the majority of the money, was for something that would benefit the people of the Northwest Territories."

Jane Groenewegen

Former Riding: Hay River South

Terms served: 5 (20 years)

Eligible for: up to $12,000

Approved for: up to $12,000

"This is why I didn't even want to apply for this thing in the first place," said Jane Groenewegen when contacted by CBC News about her approved funding. "I knew that the media would want to drag my good name through the mud. How stupid am I."

Former Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen says she had grave doubts about applying to the program, citing the public scrutiny that would come with it. (Facebook)

Groenewegen originally requested $15,000 to cover the the costs of "estate and retirement planning and corporate reorganization" on Nov. 16, according to a decision paper released to CBC News by the clerk's office.

The request came attached with a $15,000 quote for services from Hay River-based Ashton Chartered Accountants.

Those services would have included a restructuring of Greenway Corporate Group, her family's business, "to achieve estate and retirement planning objectives for Rick and Jane Groenewegan, specifically, to allow corporate distribution to them as shareholders in the most tax efficient manner."

Groenewegen says she ultimately withdrew that request.

"There was concern on the board of management that this needed to be about me only and not my husband, because my husband is my partner, and that this had to only be about my personal retirement. I said, 'OK, fine.'"

She restricted her second request, this time for $12,000 (the limit she can access), to simple "retirement planning."

"People would think that retirement planning is something that MLAs would know lots about," but not so, she says.

During her two decades as an MLA, "I just remember seeing notices, advertisements for public servants even earlier on who want to go to three-day courses to plan. And that's not something that was ever available to MLAs."

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