N.W.T MLAs suspend chief electoral officer until end of her term

A committee of MLAs that oversees the operation of the legislature has suspended Nicole Latour, who alleged the clerk of the legislature was working to undermine her authority — an allegation that an investigation largely dismissed.

Nicole Latour says bureaucrats, not MLAs, running the government

NWT Legislative assembly building
A committee of MLAs has suspended the chief electoral officer until her term ends at the end of September. The officer, Nicole Latour, says the N.W.T.'s consensus style of government is not working and that senior bureaucrats, not MLAs, are in control. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The Northwest Territories chief electoral officer has been relieved of her duties.

Nicole Latour says she got the news she was suspended in a letter from Speaker Frederick Blake a week ago, but said she had decided long before that she wants nothing more to do with the job.

"I'm just so frustrated," said Latour during a telephone interview on Monday.

Latour was one of four people who filed formal complaints against the clerk of the legislature, Tim Mercer. Three of the complainants, including her, accused Mercer of workplace bullying. Another accused him of a privacy breach.

A $380,000 investigation by an Ottawa consulting firm found there were problems in the clerk's office that needed to be addressed, but largely dismissed bullying allegations against Mercer. The investigation also found that Mercer had breached confidentiality rules when he quoted from a confidential report on a prior bullying allegation against him.

"They've spun it like it's just sour grapes," said Latour. "People who know me know I'm not like that."

Replacement chosen

According to a briefing attached to the agenda for one of the legislature's regular, highly secretive "caucus" meetings that include all MLAs, the Legislative Assembly's board of management decided to not reappoint Latour to another term after her term expires at the end of the month.

The board, a committee of MLAs which oversees operations of the legislature, made the decision behind closed doors, and later decided to suspend Latour with pay until the end of her term. Latour said she was informed of the decision in a letter from Blake that she received on Sept. 3. The board is chaired by Blake, who has been photographed on social media socializing with Mercer, helping him with home renovations, and has referred to him in photo captions as "my buddy."

According to the briefing in the agenda, which was for a meeting on Monday, the board suspended Latour because of a public statement she made following the release of a brief public summary of the report, publicly aligning herself with an MLA, and because of a formal complaint of harassment and a threat made against Latour by a member of the public.

Latour said the complaint was the result of a private communication which she regrets. Following the release of a summary of the investigation, Latour and MLA Steve Norn, another of the complainants, released a letter through their lawyer criticizing it and its conclusions.

Latour said she never strategized or colluded with Norn, though they had the same lawyer representing them for the investigation. She did say they have talked briefly about the investigation.

According to the agenda briefing, another complainant who worked in the office of the clerk, April Taylor, resigned following the release of a summary of the investigation of the allegations against Mercer. Mercer also released a public statement, saying he was pleased with the investigation.

Latour said her lawyer has received a letter from Mercer's lawyer, warning her not to make any defamatory public remarks about Mercer.

The briefing noted that another former worker in the clerk's office, Stephen Dunbar, has been selected to replace Latour.

'The tail is wagging the dog'

Latour said problems at the legislature also exist in other government departments and are indicative of fundamental problems with consensus government, the system of territorial government used in the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

She said senior bureaucrats are deciding the direction of the government, not members of the legislature, many of whom are inexperienced in politics.

"The electorate is desperate for accountability," said Latour. "The tail is wagging the dog ... the people who are elected to make decisions are not making the decisions."