Put up or shut up, says Morin
Premier says questions damaging his credibility

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 06/98) - In a dramatic shift from defence to offence, Premier Don Morin challenged MLAs to take their concerns about the Lahm Ridge Tower deal to the conflict of interest commissioner.

"I am fed up with the speculation and innuendo which is being repeated in this building, in the press and on the street about the Lahm Ridge Tower lease," the premier told the legislative assembly Wednesday.

Morin said the questions are damaging his reputation, cabinet's and the assembly as a whole.

"I challenge the member from Hay River or anyone else who may believe there is wrongdoing to file a complaint against me with the conflict of interest commissioner, if they have the guts and political backbone," said Morin.

Questions about the extension of a government lease on the building have been swirling since the session resumed, last week.

The main target of Morin's comments, MLA Jane Groenewegen, has been asking the government to explain details of the deal, which was approved just before the sale of the building to former secretary to cabinet Roland Bailey and Mike Mrdjenovich, the builder of the Morin's luxury home.

Responding to Morin's challenge, Groenewegen vowed to continue asking questions about the lease.

"I want to assure you the member from Hay River lacks no guts, said Groenewegen.

"In spite of being called to the premier's office, with the assistant deputy minister as the premier's witness and the premier outlining that he would take appropriate actions if I crossed the lines of impropriety in my search for answers, I still adhere to my right to ask respectful questions in this house and I will continue to do so."

Morin later recounted a meeting he called with Groenewegen before Christmas.

"When we met with Jane before Christmas, I said 'Ask all the questions you want, but don't slander me in the process.'"

Morin said he decided to make the statement because the innuendo is continuing after the government had responded to members' questions about the lease.

"In the (legislative assembly) you have special protection and a member can use that to slide and slither and get away with things they wouldn't get away with outside," he said.

MLAs cannot be sued for anything said in proceedings of the assembly. Elsewhere, however, they are subject to the same libel and slander laws as any individual or company.

"Anyone can see a bogeymen in the closet if they want," said Morin. "To me it was a straightforward business deal."

Morin said he raised the issue of an unsigned note containing a veiled threat that was passed to Groenewegen in the legislative assembly last week.

"I know one thing. None of my cabinet ministers wrote the note, because I asked them."

But Morin's challenge did little to stem to flow of questions Wednesday. Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus said Tuesday a chronology of the deal supplied by the government did not provide enough detail.

There are a number of outstanding questions that remain about the lease, among them:

  • Was the lease extension connected to the sale of the building, and if not, why was it finalized on the same day as the new mortgage?
  • If the government wants the deal to be transparent, why will it not release the lease agreement?
  • Why is the former owner of the building, who has yet to speak out, reportedly unhappy about the deal?