The premier of the Northwest Territories has responded after dozens of Union of Northern Workers (UNW) members showed up unexpectedly at his constituency meeting Tuesday night.
In an email, premier and MLA for Yellowknife South Bob McLeod stated he was “disappointed” by the events that took place at a meeting at Stanton Suites.
“These meetings are an important opportunity for me to hear about all priorities and concerns from residents of my riding,” stated McLeod.
“The constituency meeting was not meant to be a forum to carry on negotiations that will be taking place in another forum.”
The Union of Northern Workers announced a strike notice to territorial government employees earlier Tuesday, and Wednesday served another strike notice for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC). If an agreement is not reached during mediation this weekend, thousands of government workers could go on strike as early as Monday.
Sean Dalton, regional vice president for the North Great Slave Region, said UNW members showed up Tuesday night to give the premier a piece of their minds.
Dozens of UNW members attended the meeting and then followed McLeod out to the parking lot at the Independent Grocer on Old Airport Road after he left the meeting.
When McLeod got into his vehicle in the Independent parking lot, some UNW members blocked his path.
Dalton alleged that the premier struck him with his vehicle when UNW picketers blocked his vehicle from leaving the parking lot. Dalton called the RCMP to report the incident, and while he is not actively pursuing charges, he did ask the police to follow up.
RCMP open investigation
RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon said an investigation into the incident has been opened and is ongoing.
“Yellowknife RCMP received a report of an alleged incident involving a vehicle and a person in a parking lot location, occurring last evening,” stated York-Condon in an email. “No injuries were reported.”
There is no further information available from RCMP at this time.
In his statement, Premier McLeod did not specifically address the alleged vehicle incident but pointed out that legal strike action is not yet in effect.
“The conduct in the parking lot outside my constituency meeting last night was not part of a lawful picket,” said McLeod.
“We expect the union leadership will ensure their members understand their rights and their responsibilities. The events of last night were unfortunate, and we hope that they will not be repeated.”
The premier said he wants to assure the public and GNWT employees that the territorial government is still committed to a negotiated agreement, and “are going to already-scheduled mediation meetings with the Union of Northern Workers this week to work hard to achieve that.”
“With mediation still to take place and potentially an agreement or recommendations from the mediator coming as a result of that, I do not believe that there is a need at this time to circumvent the established bargaining process and call for direct political intervention,” he said.
Regardless of their differences, the GNWT expects all employees to conduct themselves respectfully, McLeod said.
“While we recognize that a strike is likely to be accompanied by heightened tension, we expect the union and its members to respect elected officials, and that the same respect will be given to members and union officials. I fully respect the rights of employees to bargain collectively and our government remains committed to coming to a fair agreement with the Union of Northern Workers that is also fiscally responsible, while putting an end to the current uncertainty its members are experiencing.”
Premier asked CBC reporter to leave the public meeting
Media and communications co-ordinator Charlotte Digness confirmed that the premier “wearing his MLA hat” did eject CBC reporter John Last from the constituency meeting. According to a Tweet from Last, the premier did not want people’s comments to be recorded during the public meeting.
“It’s his meeting as the MLA for Yellowknife South,” Digness said.
While reporters don’t always attend constituency meetings, they are public events and are open to members of the media.