Nunavut MLAs react to Schell ethics scandal
Curley calls for South Baffin MLA to resign from cabinet
It didn’t take long for MLAs to react to the Integrity Commissioner’s report on South Baffin MLA Fred Schell after the Nunavut legislature resumed sitting Oct. 31.
Nunavut’s ethics chief, Norman Pickell, found that Schell breached Nunavut’s Integrity Act six times in a report tabled Oct. 30.
Tagak Curley, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North, questioned Premier Eva Aariak about how she and senior civil servants handled the issue.
Curley criticized Aariak for not speaking about Schell’s behavior sooner, and he cited a section of Norman Pickell’s report that said senior officials missed opportunities to raise questions about Schell’s unethical behavior.
Curley also wanted to know what steps the government will take to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, and called for new, stringent conflict-of-interest guidelines for MLAs.
Aariak replied by saying she has asked her officials to “prepare orientations” for ministers about their responsibilities.
Curley also questioned the actions of Aariak’s advisors.
“There appeared to be a bit of a witch hunt on the whole nature of these allegations,” Curley said. “[The report] made clear to me that her advisors provided her with wrong advice,” Curley said, asking whether a “shake up” in Aariak’s senior staff is warranted.
Aariak defended her department’s decisions.
“I think I was very well served. I received information from [the] department of justice,” Aariak said. “Based on that information, I made actions — and it is that action that enabled further actions to be done by the Integrity Commissioner.”
Meanwhile, Schell, who had been absent from the legislature Oct 30, sat about three metres away from both Curley and Aariak, rocking back and forth in his chair.
A few moments after the exchange ended, Schell left the house for about 10 minutes.
After question period, Curley said Nunavummiut expect Schell to resign from cabinet.
“I think the minister in question certainly had problems,” Curley told Nunatsiaq News after question period ended. “He has no choice and I think the public expects [a resignation].”
“Unfortunately he didn’t learn from the first conflict he got into,” he said, referring to when Schell was slapped with a $1,000 fine on Nov. 1, 2011 for trying to influence a Government of Nunavut civil servant to benefit his business, Polar Supplies Ltd.
Aariak said she couldn’t speculate on whether Schell will hand in a resignation. She said she would decide to accept his resignation when or if Schell does choose to resign.
Premiers in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories do not have the power to remove MLAs from cabinet, although they do have the power to assign cabinet portfolios. Only MLAs may remove or elect cabinet ministers from among themselves.
This past March 11, Aariak stripped Schell of all ministerial portfolios after being told that he “acted in conflict of interest and abused his authority as minister.”
But MLAs let Schell sit in the house as a minister without portfolio.
In the newest report, Pickell found that three other allegations against Schell did not breach the Integrity Act, something that’s “scary,” Curley said.
“It is scary. There’s one or two [members] at least that are very concerned about the allegations that are not proven,” Curley said, adding that there should be an early election because of the whole fiasco, to give the public a “chance to issue a verdict.”
Quittiktuq MLA Ron Elliott defended Schell, saying he still attends cabinet meetings and votes at the table.
But Elliott said the issue is about public confidence. He said he welcomes an end to the matter, and wants an active minister to share portfolios that other ministers are tasked with.
“By having a minister that actually has a portfolio, that will help people,” Elliott said. “We’ve got ministers doubling up and taking on more responsibility and it would be nice to share that responsibility with all members.”
Pickell’s report will be put forward to the full caucus, where members will decide to accept or reject it.