N.W.T. deputy minister resigns after disparaging Facebook comments

Willard Hagen confirmed to CBC News he emailed his resignation to Premier Bob McLeod Wednesday afternoon.

Willard Hagen called incumbent Frame Lake candidate a 'white boy who thinks he has all the solutions'

A file photo of Willard Hagen, who has resigned from his post as the deputy minister of lands after calling MLA Kevin O'Reilly a racist and a 'white boy who thinks he has all the solutions' in a since deleted Facebook post. (CBC)

A deputy minister in the government of the Northwest Territories says he's emailed his resignation to Premier Bob McLeod after making a slanderous post on Facebook about incumbent MLA Kevin O'Reilly earlier this week.

"It's the honourable thing to do," Willard Hagen told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon. "I made a mistake, I paid the price." 

Hagen, a former executive director of the Mackenzie Land and Water Board, maintained the role as deputy minister of lands since 2016. 

On Tuesday, Hagen commented on a Facebook post that linked to a Northern News Services Ltd. (NNSL) column about Dene land claims in the N.W.T. O'Reilly also shared the column on Facebook and noted that he was in one of the photos.

On the former post, which has since been removed, Hagen called O'Reilly "a white boy who thinks he has all the solutions ... and the Natives need him." Hagen went on to call O'Reilly a racist. 

In his interview with CBC, Hagen didn't clarify what exactly spurred his comment, but NNSL reported he was reacting to O'Reilly's post.

The post by Hagen has since been removed. (Submitted)

Hagen told CBC the Facebook comment was spurred by "listening to the political bullsh-t." 

O'Reilly is the incumbent MLA in Frame Lake, seeking re-election on Oct. 1. He's known for being a critic of cabinet and has a long history of environmental activism.

He declined an interview with CBC on the matter.

"I will not be responding to recent social media posts about me," O'Reilly said in a Facebook post Wednesday. "My track record of working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and governments is well known and speaks for itself."

'I will not be responding to recent social media posts about me,' Kevin O'Reilly said in a Facebook post Wednesday. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

A 'human resources issue': premier

When asked in an interview Wednesday morning about the incident, Premier Bob McLeod called Hagen's comments a "human resources issue" and said that "everybody knows the rules."

In a subsequent emailed statement he said "Mr. Hagen's personal remarks do not reflect the views of the Government of the Northwest Territories, nor are they consistent with our expectations of a professional and respectful public service."

Though he continued to call O'Reilly racist in an interview with CBC on Tuesday, Hagen said he regretted making the post.

"I totally regret it but sometimes you know you're just ... [in] the heat of the moment," he said. "It's not appropriate at all."

"I probably won't have a job tomorrow."

Hagen said he made the comments on his days off. In the earlier interview with CBC, he said he wanted to continue in his position, saying he has "a lot to offer."

Hagen, who is a former bush pilot, also served as the president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council and helped negotiate and ratify the Gwich'in comprehensive land claim agreement.

O'Reilly is the incumbent MLA in Frame Lake, seeking re-election on Oct. 1. (Kevin O'Reilly/Facebook)

Doug Matthews, an energy analyst who worked for the territorial government for 25 years, says he has known both Hagen and O'Reilly for decades.

Matthews didn't read the post but heard about it from friends. He says it's not out of character for Hagen to speak his mind.

"Personal comments against a former member of the Legislative Assembly — I think those are inappropriate quite frankly." 

Matthews says both men are "decent people." 

"We're too small a population base for that crap," said Matthews.

Views 'not reflective' of government

Hagen said his views do not represent his department. 

"My department is made up of total, absolute professionals ... they are just amazing people," he said.

According to the territorial government, deputy ministers "serve at pleasure and are accountable to the premier for the performance of their duties." 

Deputy ministers are considered restricted employees. They cannot use their employment position to affect the political activity of another person or publicly criticize candidates positions or policies of a territorial or federal party, according to the rules.


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