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Decision day

MLAs say Kakfwi needs to address concerns about leadership

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Oct 29/01) - Stephen Kakfwi will announce today whether or not he will continue as NWT premier.

Kakfwi said Thursday he is considering his options in the face of an ultimatum from a number of MLAs: fire his chief of staff, Lynda Sorensen, and principal secretary, John Bayly, or face a vote of non-confidence.

"I need a few days to decide," said the premier. "If they're going to move motions of non-confidence, am I prepared to go through that?"

Kakfwi would not name the MLAs who issued the ultimatum.

On Wednesday some MLAs said action needs to be taken against Sorensen and Bayly for their role in the secret recording of a March 26 phone call to conflict of interest commissioner Carol Roberts.

Mr. Bayly has since resigned his position as principal secretary.

Bayly made the call to draw out incriminating evidence from Roberts. He did not tell her that Sorensen and others, including then cabinet minister Jane Groenewegen, were in the room listening in on speakerphone.

A special committee of MLAs looking into an allegation of bias made by Groenwegen against Roberts recommended this week that Groenwegen and Roberts resign, and urged Kakfwi to fire Sorensen and Bayly.

So far, the affair has already cost Roberts and Bayly their jobs and Groenwegen her cabinet post. MLAs voted to fire Roberts on Wednesday, Groenwegen resigned Thursday and Bayly did the same Friday.

"In order for any minister to perform their duties effectively, they need to maintain the confidence of their colleagues in cabinet and the members of this house," Groenewegen told the assembly. "It's clear from this report I no longer have that confidence."

Unrest among MLAs

The premier's emergency statement came an hour after a caucus meeting of all MLAs called to determine a process and a time for selecting a replacement for Groenewegen.

They never got to that issue.

Calling it a "palace coup," Yellowknife MLA Sandy Lee said that during the meeting there was a suggestion that the ballot for selecting a new minister include a confidence vote for both Kakfwi and Transportation Minister Vince Steen.

"This is about overthrowing government," said Lee, condemning the action.

Typically cabinet ministers are selected by the territorial leadership committee. Composed of all MLAs, the committee debates the merits of candidates publicly and selects ministers by a vote of secret ballot.

Inuvik MLA Floyd Roland said the committee is one way of addressing concerns about confidence in the premier.

"He's going to have to go a long way (to restore my confidence)," said Roland, who was a rival of Kakfwi's when the premier was chosen.

After a harsh attack on the committee on Wednesday, Kakfwi's stance softened somewhat yesterday. He said he may reassign staff.

Support for the premier was not long in coming.

Three hours after the emergency statement was made, Dogrib Grand Chief Joe Rabesca showed up at the assembly with a letter of support in hand. Others followed Friday.

A vote of non-confidence by MLAs could still be held Wednesday, however.