MLAs Kieron Testart and Shane Thompson announced they will motion for a debate on the removal of Health Minister Glen Abernethy and Wally Schumann, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment from their cabinet portfolios.
MLAs will debate and vote Wednesday on whether the ministers have “mishandled” their portfolios.
Abernethy spoke to media shortly after Testart and Thompson told the assembly of their intentions.
“We work incredibly hard for the residents of the NWT and we’re committed to continue to do so. The members have concerns and we’re happy to listen and we’re happy to continue working with them,” said Abernethy.
Abernethy acknowledged people are concerned by the latest federal report showing child and family services in the NWT is not meeting basic requirements and standards.
However, he wants “due process” for the findings of that report to be discussed and for the direction of his department to be clarified.
“Why the urgency to remove somebody without giving the report its due course?” he said, adding that the department “didn’t wait” to act until the report was released.
The motion is not a request for resignation but for a debate and majority vote on the performance of the ministers, said Testart.
“They will be addressed as performance issues based on not the totality of their work … these motions are brought forward for more specific reasons,” said Testart.
Schumann has “mishandled the (Marine Transportation Services) file to a very serious degree and members feel quite strongly that this matter needs to be put forward to the house and debated,” he said, referring to the cancellation of annual barge shipments to Beaufort and Kitikmeot communities due to heavy ice conditions.
Schumann’s department is accused of waiting too late in the season to send the barge.
The motion is not single-handedly a result of the failure to get barges to three communities but a culmination of “how the matter was handled,” said Testart.
MLAs asked “fair questions” of Schumann on the barge deliveries and felt that he was “heavy-handed” in his response, said the MLA for Kam Lake.
“Consensus government is about working together and when you have a minister saying, flat out, ‘You’re wrong and I’m not interested in your opinion’ … this is a pattern of behaviour that has been typical of Minister Schumann for quite some time,” said Testart.
Thompson gave notice that he would motion to remove Schumann from cabinet and seek a new member to be appointed to the executive council.
Schumann made a strong statement in his defence.
“How do you mishandle a file where I clearly laid out in my ministers’ statement, the actions that took place to get us to where we are? We’ve went well and beyond what any private company would do to serve the residents of the NWT. It’s one of the reasons this government bought MTS,” he said.
“I don’t think we mishandled (anything). There’s lessons to be learned from this … but I don’t think that’s a reason to try to kick me out.”
“It will be interesting which members stand up and speak against the two of in particular, because I think the two of us are very hard-working ministers and we’re doing what the mandate clearly laid out for us to do,” said Schumann.
Asked why he should keep his portfolio, he had a quick response.
“Why shouldn’t we?”
“I cannot see any reason for this and that’s why I want to see it on the floor of the house,” he said.
In response to reporters’ questions about MLAs’ aspirations for the health portfolio, Testart said the motion is not related to any “political aspirations.”
“The public has made it very clear that the findings of the auditor general’s report are unacceptable and they made it very clear that the failures of (Marine Transportation Services) are unacceptable and we are taking action as regular members to hold the government to account,” said Testart.
Asked if there is support in the assembly to remove both cabinet ministers, Testart said support was “sufficient among the majority of members in the house to bring these motions forward and to have the debate.”
Abernethy has held the health portfolio during the last two child and family services audits but services worsened and 25 per cent of jobs are unfilled.
“We are seeing the most vulnerable populations not being served,” said Thompson, MLA for Nahendeh.
The Office of the Auditor General report that slammed the worsening of child and family services in the NWT is one of the key reasons for the motion to vote to remove Abernethy from cabinet, said Thompson.