An effort to remove Katrina Nokleby, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), from cabinet on Wednesday has left NWT residents with far more questions than answers.
Steve Norn, MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, tabled a motion in the legislative assembly to have Nokleby removed from her position on cabinet, which includes the ministry of Infrastructure. It was seconded by Hay River South Rocky Simpson, who was sued for $2 million in unpaid debts and had his property seized by lender NWT Business Development and Investment Corporation, an agency Nokleby oversees.
RELATED REPORTING: MLA Norn tables motion to remove Nokleby from cabinet
The motion came just a day after the assembly returned to its second session following its suspension in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Norn offered little reasoning for the motion, but said in a phone interview that the decision wasn’t made lightly and that it was done through careful deliberation with other regular members of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight.
The motion will be debated by MLAs on Friday and, as occurred in the last confidence vote in 2018 involving former ministers Wally Schumann and Glen Abernethy, will conclude with a publicly recorded vote.
Nokleby, who was elected to the 19th Legislative Assembly on Oct. 24 as a first time MLA representing the Great Slave constituency said in a statement that she would respect the process for discussing non-confidence motions and had no comment.
“I am not going to comment about the concerns of Members until they have had an opportunity to explain them fully in the Legislative Assembly, as part of the debate on this motion.”
Other regular MLAs were just as tight-lipped as Norn about the rationale for the motion. Only Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green responded to email inquiries sent to all regular members. She said she had no comment but added that she would participate in the debate on Friday.
Legislative Assembly rules don’t explicitly prohibit MLAs from speaking on motions before a debate takes place, but most members commonly wait until the debate to express their thoughts, said Legislative Assembly spokesperson Danielle Mager.
Public speaks out
Members of the public were left scratching their heads after news broke of the motion against Nokleby.
“I don’t know why she should be removed or shouldn’t be removed,” as Steve Lacey told NNSL Media on Thursday.
“We don’t know the reasoning at this point. As far as I’ve seen (Nokleby’s) done a good job,” said Chris Van Dyke.
“I don’t know all the reasons why they tabled the motion, but maybe they should assign someone with more experience than her,” said a woman named Marie, who declined to give her last name.
An online petition called “Save Minister Katrina Nokleby” was launched by Chuck Grandy on Thursday and by mid-afternoon had received hundreds of signatures.
“In this assembly, we were promised change,” said the petition. “We were promised that MLAs would work together. In unprecedented times, the NWT needs to focus on keeping the territory strong instead of petty political infighting.”
Some signatories left comments on the page, with Vincent McLeod saying Nokleby “is qualified and doing a great job,” Sheila Arychuk writing that the minister “deserves a better chance, six months on the job is not enough time especially during a pandemic,” and Olivia Lee stating that Nokleby is “the right person to be in charge of the departments she has been assigned.”
The president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines also threw his support behind Nokleby in an open letter on Thursday to all members of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
Rocky Simpson owes nearly $2 million to agency overseen by Nokleby
The person seconding the motion raised just as many questions as the motion itself.
Rocky Simpson owes the Business Development Corporation (BDIC), a GNWT agency, almost $2 million after defaulting on a loan in 2017. Nokelby, as minister of ITI, is responsible for the BDIC.
When asked following his election victory how he would effectively represent the interests of his constituents while owing the large debt to the territorial government, Simpson said his business problems were unrelated to his job as MLA.
He didn’t publicly acknowledge his debts until three days after the election.
The MLA won his seat in the Oct. 1 poll after defeating then-ITI Minister Wally Schumann.
Simpson and his Hay River-based companies were ordered to pay $1,885,955 in outstanding debts to the BDIC by NWT Supreme Court judge Karan Shaner last June. Concept Energy failed to make payments to the corporation for over two years, defaulting on the loan in 2017.
Court documents also showed Simpson’s Concept Energy also owed just over $1.1 million to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
The BDIC and CRA later filed writs of seizure against Simpson and his companies in an attempt to recoup the money. Two of the properties were sold last December to his son RJ Simpson for $41,500. RJ Simpson is the MLA for Hay River North and minister of Education, Culture and Employment.
Forgiveness of debts once required a piece of legislation but that hasn’t been the case for a few years now. The GNWT’s Financial Management Board now has the authority to forgive and/or write off debts. Any such forgiveness must be reported in the Territory’s Public Accounts or the annual report of the agency to which the debt is owed. Nothing has occurred in recent months to suggest the government is willing to forgive Simpson’s debts.
“According to the Financial Administration Act: The BDIC can forgive a debt owing to it an amount of up to $500. Amounts greater than $500 will require the approval for forgiveness from the Financial Management Board,” said ITI spokesperson Drew Williams.
On a government level, concerns of conflicts of interest officially fall under the purview of the integrity commissioner, an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly who can receive and investigate alleged conflicts between members’ public duties and private interests.
David Philip Jones, the integrity commissioner for the Yukon and NWT, was asked whether Simpson’s action of trying to remove a minister who is responsible for an agency to which he owes millions of dollars could potentially be a conflict of interest. Jones said he had no comment on the issue.
– with files from Mike W. Bryant