Defiant and unrepentant, Fred Schell shares his story, slams Aariak
“Was I scared? You bet I was. Some would consider this blackmail”
In a speech announcing his resignation from cabinet, South Baffin MLA Fred Schell went down swinging Nov. 5, hurling a barrage of invective upon the heads of Premier Eva Aariak, her staff and senior Government of Nunavut officials.
Schell delivered a prepared speech that slammed Aariak and her officials, alleging many shortcomings in the way they handled a lengthy Integrity Act review of his conduct
“I’m relieved we are finally dealing with the integrity commissioner’s report. This has been stressful and grueling, something that I would not wish upon anyone,” Schell said.
Schell started off by saying that Aariak had been well aware of the integrity commissioner’s first report on Schell’s conduct, delivered in 2011 before he had been sworn in as minister of Human Resources on Oct. 5, 2011.
In his first report, Integrity Commissioner Norman Pickell found Schell had breached the act by sending a threatening email in 2009 to a GN employee that sought a decision favourable to his business, Polar Supplies Ltd.
“I had just become a minister. The moment I knew the report was coming I notified the premier of the investigation and made her aware to expect the report,” Schell said.
When the report came out on Oct. 18, 2011, Schell claimed that Aariak denied knowing of the allegations.
But when it came to light that she did know about the allegations, Schell said the Premier’s office backtracked and tried to clarify what she meant, saying Aariak did have a conversation with Schell between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5.
The second time Schell was confronted with Integrity Act allegations, he said he was summoned to a meeting with the Premier’s principal secretary, Paul Crowley, and cabinet secretary Dan Vandermuelen on March 8, 2012.
“At the meeting they stated they had legal information in their possession. In fact, they waved the document in my face,” Schell said in his speech.
“They alleged this information could get me into trouble with the Integrity Commissioner. They refused to disclose the legal information and the evidence they were supposed to have had,” he said.
“These officials told me to resign from cabinet, or they would file a complaint with the integrity commissioner, and they also ensured I would be stripped of my portfolios.”
“Was I scared? You bet I was. Some would consider this blackmail. I was blindsided and told to resign for what I did wrong without ever receiving any communication with the Premier herself — is that leadership?”
On March 11, Aariak stripped Schell of his portfolios and requested a review from the Integrity Commissioner.
Vandermuelen, who holds the position of secretary to cabinet and deputy minister of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, accused Schell of breaching the Integrity Act 21 times.
“I must say some of the allegations that were put forward were bizarre,” Schell said. “I was left with the impression that the premier’s officials were trying to throw everything and anything in the review so at least one allegation against me would stick.”
After a five-day hearing in Iqaluit that started Oct. 10, at which Schell was represented by a lawyer Michael Penner, Pickell upheld six Integrity Act allegations against Schell in a report tabled Oct. 30.
The report found Schell had lied under oath, abused his ministerial power and put himself into conflicts of interest.
Pickell also said Schell received poor advice from Michael Constantineau, his newly-hired executive assistant, who is married to Cheryl Constantineau, who manages Polar Supplies Ltd. under a blind trust.
Schell questioned why Aariak’s principal secretary Paul Crowley had been subpoenaed to give evidence at the hearing, which was held behind closed doors in the legislative assembly building.
Schell said that Aariak is not well served if, as she claimed, Aariak did not know Crowley had been subpoenaed.
“Does this give you confidence in her judgment?” Schell said. “Like some of my colleagues, I too have concerns on whether the premier is being well-served by her staff.”
Schell then questioned the judgment of Aariak’s staff in relation to her in 2011 decision to give him ministerial responsibility for the Nunavut Housing Corp.
“If the Premier was, as she claimed, well advised, why did she choose to sign portfolios that could be constructed as conflict of interest?” Schell said.
“Did she or her staff not review the public disclosure statement that [we] would all file annually? This decision makes me wonder whether it was an oversight, or intentional,” Schell said.
Schell said the bureaucracy under Aariak is too powerful, and “limits the ability to do our job.”
Schell also questioned Aariak for using the “full weight of this government’s resources” for the case, said the process took far too long and has cost taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“I think members will understand why I can say now that I have no confidence in the premier’s leadership and why I am concerned with the level of authority that has been delegated to the premier’s staff,” Schell said.
“Nunavummiut need leadership, not readership,” he said.
Aariak also voiced her opinion on the Integrity Commissioner’s report, and Schell’s conduct before his speech.
“Members of this House will remember that in 2011, the Integrity Commissioner had already warned Mr. Schell about seeking to advance his personal interests as an elected official,” Aariak said, adding that the first Integrity Commissioner’s report came before MLAs voted him into the cabinet.
“At the time I assigned Mr. Schell his portfolios, I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would have to be ‘squeaky clean.’ He gave me his word,” Aariak said.
Aariak said Schell “was well warned” and continued to “exercise the same poor judgment.”
Aariak also said she acted quickly when she found out about the second set of allegations.
“I talked to Mr. Schell. I discussed the option of his stepping down from cabinet. I told him that should he choose to remain in cabinet an impartial option of the Integrity Commissioner would be sought,” Aariak said.
“We now have the bare facts and the unbiased conclusions before us. The report speaks for itself,” she said.
Schell may still remain an MLA for South Baffin, something the Integrity Commissioner recommended in his report.
Members voted to accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report Nov. 5. This means Schell has to pay a $10,000 fine for breaching Nunavut’s Integrity Act six times.
Schell also has to make a variety of written and oral apologies to the House, his constituents and all Nunavut residents. He must also meet with elders to discuss his conduct.