North

8 N.W.T. MLAs have to go to court before they can take their seats

Eight Northwest Territories MLAs have to go to court before they can take their seats during the first major session of the legislative assembly next week.

Elections Act requires MLAs with late/incomplete campaign spending reports to apply to judge

Eight Northwest Territories MLAs have to go to court before they can take their seats during the first major session of the legislative assembly next week.

The members, including two cabinet ministers, either didn't mail their campaign spending reports on time or didn't fill them out completely.

As a result, the MLAs need to submit applications to the N.W.T. Supreme Court asking a judge to allow them to sit in the legislative assembly, which resumes eight days from now.

"I think it's an unfortunate situation but the law reads the way that it does," said Nicole Latour, the N.W.T.'s chief electoral officer.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart says the requirement to apply to a judge to have errors in filing campaign expense reports excused is 'quite onerous and time consuming when these are good-faith errors that are actually contemplated in the act itself.' (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The rule is set out in the Northwest Territories Elections and Plebiscites Act.

"Now what the outcome of that is, and why it's actually in the act, is a little bit perplexing. But that's the course of action," said Latour.

Cabinet minister Alfred Moses, plus regular MLAs Kieron Testart, Frederick Blake Jr., Danny McNeely and Michael Nadli had incomplete reports.

Cabinet minister Wally Schumann, Speaker Jackson Lafferty and regular MLA Herb Nakimayak did not file reports on time.

Latour says her office reminded each candidate's official agent of the looming deadline two to three weeks ahead of time.

"There's one that I feel really terrible about," she said. "They're really a victim of Canada Post."

Schumann said his agent mailed his papers on Jan. 18 but they didn't arrive at Latour's office until two days after the deadline.

Testart said his official agent was in and out of the hospital during the month of January. He said he informed Latour that his report would potentially not be filed on time, and asked for an extension.

However the act doesn't allow the chief electoral officer to grant extensions to elected candidates. They have to go to a N.W.T. Supreme Court judge, who essentially excuses MLAs for their reporting errors, provided the errors took place in good faith (i.e. an official agent was sick or died).

"I think that's quite onerous and time consuming when these are good-faith errors that are actually contemplated in the act itself," said Testart.

Tim Mercer, clerk of the legislative assembly, said most of the documents that are missing are "fairly minor" documents.

Latour said she's considering recommending some changes to the Elections and Plebiscites Act that would give her more flexibility — "probably maybe a slight change in language that allows a little bit of a discretion in this office."

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