North

'No': Premier refuses to apologize for allegedly 'breaking the law' in Aurora College firing

'I believe she has misled this House, overstepped her authority, in fact, breaking the law,' said MLA Jackson Lafferty in the N.W.T. Legislature Wednesday.

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty demanded the premier apologize on Wednesday

MLA Jackson Lafferty argued that while the Public Service Act allowed the premier to fire Tom Weegar, an assistant deputy minister, it did not give her the authority to dismiss him as the Aurora College president. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The N.W.T. premier came under fire at the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, as an MLA demanded she apologize for "breaking the law" in firing the former Aurora College president.

The heated exchange in the N.W.T. Legislature comes more than a month after Premier Caroline Cochrane silently fired Tom Weegar — the former president of Aurora College and assistant deputy minister responsible for education renewal. 

The story of how and why Weegar was dismissed has been murky as Education Minister R.J. Simpson told  three different versions of what happened over the course of a week.

"We have questions and concerns from the community," said Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty in his member's statement Wednesday.

Lafferty, who was education minister in the 17th Legislative Assembly, questioned the premier earlier this month over whether her removal of Weegar as president violated a provision within the Aurora College Act, which governs the college.

The act states the power to appoint the Aurora College president lies with the education minister, and that for the purposes of the Public Service Act, the president is a deputy head. The act doesn't explicitly mention firing the president.

Lafferty argued that while the Public Service Act allowed the premier to fire Weegar as an assistant deputy minister, it did not give her the authority to dismiss him as the college president.

"In her confusion, I believe she has misled this House, overstepped her authority, in fact, breaking the law," said Lafferty on Wednesday.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that the member is still confused.- Caroline Cochrane, N.W.T. premier

He quoted Section 19 of the Aurora College Act which states that the minister shall appoint a president, and that appointment "operates notwithstanding the Public Service Act."

"It should be troubling to this House that the premier play[s] so free and easily," said Lafferty. "It makes [you] wonder, where else she might choose to exceed her authority as a premier.

"I believe her misconduct warrants an apology to this House, and a pledge to us that this will never happen again." 

Premier calls Lafferty 'confused'

"I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that the member is still confused," said Cochrane in response to Lafferty's question.

She said that she's offered her staff at the Department of Justice to "sit down with [Lafferty] and explain how this works." 

"I've offered many times, and I will offer again," said Cochrane. 

"It's not just about me," responded Lafferty. "It's about the public." 

'I believe her misconduct warrants an apology to this House, and a pledge to us that this will never happen again,' said Lafferty in the Legislature on Wednesday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

He then pressed the premier on her understanding of the Aurora College Act — which states the education minister has the authority to hire, and, according to Lafferty, "terminate" the president, notwithstanding the Public Service Act.

The premier did not answer the question but extended her offer, this time to "any member in this House," to sit down with her Justice officials to get clarification on the topic.

"No ... I will not apologize': premier

"Will the Premier Cochrane apologize to this House for overstepping her authority?" asked Lafferty, after suggesting there seems to be a lack of transparency.

Cochrane responded by saying it was a decision not made on her own, but with consultation. She did not specify with whom.

'No," Cochrane articulated. "I will not apologize."

Lafferty said he would table a document with legal advice at a later time. He tabled it Wednesday afternoon.

Cochrane, for the third time in under five minutes, stated that she would get "the whole staff of the Department of Justice" to give Lafferty a briefing, if he'd like.

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