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Posted: Tue Oct 13, 2009 6:35 pm Post subject: Extra-marital affair could topple N.W.T. premier
Extra-marital affair could topple N.W.T. premier
By Jorge Barrera, Canwest News ServiceOctober 13, 2009 7:02 PM
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An undated file photo of Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland.Photograph by: Handout, CNSAn extra-marital affair with legislative assembly clerk Patricia Russell could soon force the resignation of Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland with the territory's legislative assembly expected to receive a report into the matter by Oct. 29.
The report by an adjudicator appointed to determine whether Roland breached the public trust in the handling of his romantic affair could recommend the premier lose his seat in the legislature, said Glen Tait, the lawyer for adjudicator Ted Hughes. Hughes, a former judge and B.C. conflict of interest commissioner, could also recommend a fine, suspension or reprimand if he rules against the premier, added Tait.
At issue is the length of time the couple kept the affair under wraps. The two were married to others at the time but have left their spouses to live together.
Russell was formerly the clerk responsible for co-ordinating legislative committees and sat through closed-door meetings where backbench MLAs discussed the performance of government ministers.
Some backbench MLAs began to suspect Roland was receiving confidential information gathered by Russell and six of them wrote a letter asking for an investigation on Feb. 16.
Hughes heard from nine witnesses during seven days of hearings into the affair. The hearings wrapped up Friday and witnesses included both Roland and Russell, along with five of the six MLAs who signed a letter sent to the N.W.T.'s conflict of interest commissioner Gerald Gerrand asking for an investigation.
Hughes was appointed adjudicator after Gerrand found there were grounds to conclude Roland had violated rules governing the conduct of public officials.
The affair has already taken a heavy political toll on Roland, whose government narrowly survived a non-confidence vote in February.
While key players in the government found out about the affair in mid-November, 2008, a December 2008 e-mail sent by Russell's ex-husband claimed the affair had begun in June 2008, according to a report by the conflict of interest commissioner.
Roland admitted to the affair in the legislature and denied any breach of confidentiality. While Roland and Russell told the commissioner their affair began in September 2008, the premier said they had waited to reveal the relationship for the good of their families.
No political parties exist in the consensus-style of government used in the N.W.T. MLAs elect the premier who then chooses the cabinet. The remaining MLAs then act as a type of opposition to the government.
"We had in mind families first," Roland said on Feb. 6, according to a Hansard transcript. "It is never good, Mr. Speaker, when a family man or woman has to sit their family down and tell them what happened."
Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins said he believes the matter has been blown out of proportion and he suspects it has been fuelled by sour grapes and ambition.
"Some of the people who signed (the letter) have been fighting the government from day 1," said Hawkins. "This basically consumed our legislature for a year."
Others said it was a matter of principle.
"I and others believe it was a conflict of interest and that (the premier) failed to live up to his oath," said Great Slave MLA Glen Abernethy. "We have a relationship that relies on trust."
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