No connection to Northland: MLAGroenewegen says assistant's marriage to utility manager has nothing to do with her defence of company
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 11, 2015
After a heated back and forth last week with Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins over the future of Northland Utiltities last week, MLA Jane Groenewegen said she wanted to come clean about her interest in the debate.
What the Hay River South MLA failed to mention in her statement to the legislative assembly Feb. 5, however, is that her long-time constituency assistant, Wendy Morgan, is married to Duane Morgan, the company's Yellowknife manager.
The connection was noted after Yellowknifer received an e-mail from Wendy Morgan containing a copy of Groenewegen's member's statement announcing that she wanted to "come clean" about her remarks in the legislative assembly the day before. This came after Hawkins questioned the motive behind her staunch support for Northland.
Groenewegen had rushed to the defence of "a private company that's been in the Northwest Territories for over 70 years" after Hawkins suggested ratepayers would save money if Northland and the Public Utilities Board were cut out of the equation.
Neither Groenewegen nor Hawkins mentioned the company by name but they were talking about Northland Utilities, which supplies power generated by NWT Power Corporation to Hay River and Yellowknife.
Indeed, Groenewegen's statement the following day praised Northland and its staff, calling the company an "integral part of Hay River's economic base."
After Hawkins mused about doing away with "insatiably hungry companies" providing power in the NWT, Groenewegen stood on a point of order, calling his remarks "derogatory." This followed a testy exchange where Groenewegen muttered "all lies" as Hawkins speculated about the possibility of lower power bills with Northland's demise. Groenewegen retracted her remarks after Hawkins raised a point of order.
Hawkins subsequently suggested Groenewegen had a connection to Northland and should "come clean" about it.
In an interview with Yellowknifer on Monday, Groenewegen said her constituency assistant's marriage to a senior manager at Northland Utilities is not relevant to her comments on northern utilities and power rates.
"Wendy Morgan being my constituent assistant has nothing to do with my comments about wanting the government to do its due diligence before making any final decisions about what they're going to do with power rates," she said, adding that Morgan has been her constituency assistant for more than 15 years.
"Wendy's worked for me all these years and of course, we have a close working relationship, but at the end of the day I'm the MLA for Hay River and these matters need to be looked into. No one is objecting to that ... including me."
Groenewegen pointed out in her member's statement that Northland Utilities (NUL) headquarters, as well as NWT Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Public Utilities Board (PUB) are based in Hay River.
"I want to come clean about my interest in this topic. I am an MLA for Hay River, the headquarters of NUL, NTPC and the PUB," stated Groenewegen.
"While these discussions are taking place at a municipal and territorial level, I want our comments and actions to instil confidence in the workplaces of these institutions."
In the very same statement, Groenewegen pointed to the contributions of the Hay River manager of Northland, Ross Stanley, and Jim Thom in Fort Providence who has worked for the company for 25 years. She makes no mention of Duane Morgan.
When asked whether it was Morgan's marital relationship to Groenewegen's assistant that caused him call on Groenewegen to come clean, Hawkins said, "it's clear the full story wasn't illustrated."
"I don't think the public is being best served by these glaring gaps," he added.
Groenewegen maintained that Hawkins comments about Northland Utilities as being hungry for profits are inflammatory and irresponsible.
She pointed out that the company's profits are regulated by the Public Utilities Board, and that the company employs a large number of people, both in Hay River and across the NWT.
"There are families and lives in these communities whether its NTPC, NUL, even the PUB," she said.
"When we're tossing these ideas around it's best not to characterize anything in a way that is incomplete or done without due diligence because it affects people's lives."
The Town of Hay River recently announced a desire to cancel its contract with Northland Utilities due to the company's inability to curb skyrocketing power rates.