Objection not about Northland: MLAGroenewegen retracts comments, says she was just protecting 'rules and decorum' after utility comes under attack
Northern News Services
Updated Monday, February 9, 2015
A fiery exchange between Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen and Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins broke out with accusations of lies and name-calling on the opening day of the legislative assembly on Feb. 4.
Hawkins' assertion that residents would enjoy lower power bills if only "profit-hungry" Northland Utilities was eliminated from the equation had Groenewegen calling foul.
"It has nothing to do with Northland, it's anybody that's being spoken about in a derogatory way in the House," Groenewegen told News/North. "It's not Northland."
Her member's statement the following day was focused on the complexities of power distribution in the North, including Northland's longstanding role.
"I just jump up for rules and decorum in the house," she said.
"I know it's against the rules; you can't take on someone who can't defend themselves."
Hawkins was in the midst of questioning Premier Bob McLeod about what would happen should the global utility subsidiary be sent packing and NWT Power Corporation (NTPC) be allowed to take over power distribution in Yellowknife. The Town of Hay River announced in December that it would not be renewing its franchise agreement with Northland after 2016.
Hawkins said customers would save approximately 10 cents per kilowatt hour if power distribution was left solely in the hands of NTPC.
While a skeptical McLeod was questioning the "mathematics" of Hawkins' theory, Groenewegen was heckling him with words that were inaudible from the press gallery.
Hawkins subsequently stood on a point of order, saying Groenewegen had muttered that his statements were "all lies," which Groenewegen quickly retracted.
She went on to admit she was "prone to heckling more than (she) should."
The bad blood didn't end there, however, as Hawkins proceeded to interrogate Michael Miltenberger, the minister responsible for power corp.
Hawkins was asking Miltenberger about the profits these "insatiably hungry companies" make by supplying power in the Northwest Territories when Groenewegen stood on a point of order of her own.
She called Hawkins' characterization of Northland Utilities "derogatory," although Hawkins didn't mention the company by name during this round of questioning.
"A private company that has been in the Northwest Territories for over 70 years as a private company," she said.
"I've heard (Hawkins) refer to them as a southern company. I've heard him refer to them as having an insatiable appetite for profit and they're profit-hungry.
"This company he's referring to is not represented by the minister and is not here to defend themselves against derogatory or unsubstantiated comments like that."
Legislative assembly speaker Jackie Jacobson said he would think Groenewegen's point of order over and report back next week.
Jacobson then cautioned MLAs about making offensive remarks while in the legislative assembly.
Hawkins suggested Groenewegen had an ulterior motive for her staunch defence of Northland Utilities, although he did not elaborate inside the legislative assembly.
"Mrs. Groenewegen should come clean with her connection, if there is any that we need to get on the record, a reason why she is defending the company," said Hawkins.
"I don't understand what may or may not be, but a few minutes ago I was accused of lying and now I'm being heckled on the side on my concerns, on my choice of adjectives when it comes to the cost of living."
Groenewegen raised her arms in apparent exasperation but did not respond.
Hawkins then returned to his questioning, asking Miltenberger whether the door was open for NTPC to be the power distributor for the North.
"The issue I'm really trying to drive at, Mr. Speaker, is are there other opportunities for other distributors, such as NTPC, that doesn't require to make a profit on the distribution rather than cover the cost?" Hawkins asked.
"The reason I ask this question is because I've been talking to the department about this one.
"What analysis has been done if we eliminate outside distributors, therefore we don't necessarily need a (Public Utilities Board) and we roll the NWT Power Corp. into a department."
"Normally you would describe this as hypothetical, but this is work I know the department has been reviewing and evaluating."
Miltenberger said "due diligence" is being done on the issue but he could not offer any final position.
"Those are questions currently under review, not exactly the way the member has phrased them in terms of a formal department or getting rid of all distributors other than (NTPC)," said Miltenberger. "We are doing due diligence on those questions. I'm not in a position at this point to answer specifically because we have not concluded the work."