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Human resources debate starts with barbs from Nunavut finance minister

The long awaited review of the Nunavut government as an employer — including addressing issues of workplace harassment — started off with a fiery exchange in the legislature Thursday.

Review opens with debate on 2012 closing of Human Resources department; continues today

The long awaited review of the Nunavut government as an employer — including addressing issues of workplace harassment — started off with a fiery exchange in the legislature Thursday. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The long awaited review of the Nunavut government as an employer — including addressing issues of workplace harassment — started off with a fiery exchange in the legislature Thursday.

The proceedings in committee of the whole are reviewing five documents, including the government's human resource strategy for 2014-2018 and the ethics officer's 2015-2016 annual report.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak moved for the review in the fall sitting after Nunavut government employees reached out to her about workplace bullying. 

On Thursday, Angnakak kept her questions limited to the organizational structure of human resources, probing Finance Minister Keith Peterson about a 2011 consultant's report called "A Framework for Results."

One of Ken Lovely's recommendations was to move some parts of the Human Resources department into Finance, but that Human Resources should still remain its own standalone department.

But in 2012, the Nunavut government went against that recommendation, splitting Human Resources between the department of Finance and Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Angnakak pressed Peterson on why the government made that decision.

"Ms. Angnakak, of course, was an exec assistant to the minister of ED&T at the time, now the premier, so she'd be fully aware of a lot of decisions," said Peterson.

"The minister's right," Angnakak replied. "I was an EA. But he was in cabinet making those decisions. And for the record, I was not involved in this process."

"I'm not sure where Ms. Angnakak was back in those days," Peterson shot back, "but I know my executive assistant gives me political advice when I'm going into cabinet meetings and financial management board meetings. All EAs, all ministers, all MLAs have seen copies of the report. There was no secret agenda."

"I think we have to remember who had power and authority to make decisions and who didn't," said Angnakak

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak pushed for the review after hearing stories about workplace bullying. (CBC)

Peterson defended the decision. 

"The Lovely report is simply one report. Consultants can give advice but they don't make decisions. We looked at his advice, we looked at the dynamics of the day. We looked at other information, for example the Auditor General of Canada's report for 2010, other documents, internal information and a decision was made," said Peterson.

Peterson says there haven't been any issues with the split.

He says Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs is focusing on Inuit employment, training and development, while Finance is focusing on staffing, recruiting and labour relations, and that's made human resources more effective and efficient.

7 years of sexual harassment

As the proceedings continue Friday in the legislature, it's expected MLAs will have questions about the workplace environment at the Nunavut government.

The 2015-2016 annual report from the ethics officer of the Nunavut Public Service, tabled this week in the legislature, highlights one example of wrongdoing in a Nunavut government office.

In the report, Jeffrey Schnoor writes that he had 11 disclosures of wrongdoing in that year and only found one wrong.

In that case, Schnoor found an employee had been sexually harassed by another employee for at least seven years.

The harassment included "leering, wolf-whistles and on at least one occasion, inappropriate touching."

The victim was trying to avoid the aggressor, fearing the conduct would escalate, Schnoor writes.

"The ethics officer also expressed concern that the sexual harassment could continue for such a long period of time with very little apparently being done about it," Schnoor writes, "despite there being several complaints over the years from at least four employees."

Schnoor made the following recommendations:

  • That the offender in this case be dismissed from his position with the Nunavut public service;

  • That the government pay the victim $3,000 in compensation;

  • That the government take steps to ensure that all managers fully understand their obligations to respond proactively to complaints made about sexual harassment in the workplace;

  • And that it take steps to inform employees that they can and should complain about sexual harassment in their workplace, even if it's directed at someone else, and that managers understand that they should act on such complaints.

The relevant ministers accepted the recommendations and said they would be implementing them all.

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