Impartiality needed
Zubko doubts all have equal access to launch conflict concerns

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Dec 04/98) - Inuvik residents are starting to question how accessible the conflict of interest process is in the wake of Conflict of Interest Commissioner Anne Crawford releasing a report which prompted former premier Don Morin to resign.

The report deemed Morin had contravened territorial conflict of interest laws eight times.

"My concern is with the inquiry process itself and not this specific case," says Inuvik TV owner Tom Zubko.

"Joe Average off the street would not be able to go through this because the process makes it too onerous on the complainant."

The main burden a complainant faces is legal costs since the GNWT's Management Services Board set a precedent saying it will only pay an MLA's or the premier's defence costs if that person is charged with conflict of interest offenses. The board has repeatedly ruled it will not cover the legal expenses of anybody who files the complaint.

Crawford's report suggests if the Management Services Board continues to refuse to pay complainant MLA Jane Groenewegen's legal fees, then Morin should cover those costs from his own pocket.

She then went a step further and said Morin should pay Groenewegen one dollar personally, in cash, on top of her legal costs.

The thing is, Crawford has no legal power to force Morin to do this even though her recommendation may resonate when the entire legislative assembly debates the matter this week.

Zubko says the Morin inquiry took the shape of a political battle, complete with presumed winners and losers, instead of being one where an impartial body insulated the complainant from all costs once it deemed the complaint was not frivolous.

Crawford's report spells out how political the inquiry was and how involved Groenewegen was.

"From start to finish, Mr. Morin has tried to use this inquiry as a means to attack Ms. Groenewegen," the report reads.

"He has not focused on his own office and conduct."

Similarly, News/ North carried a recent headline, Winner by TKO, in between photos of Morin and Groenewegen.

The political repercussions of someone bringing forward a complaint could deter honest citizens from doing so, according to Zubko.

"What about the business owner?" he asks.

"They should be able to bring their complaint forward and then be insulated from the process."