Opening closed doors
Management and Services Board to allow public scrutiny

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 11/99) - During the legislative assembly's September sitting, members passed a bill to streamline their salaries and allowances.

But further down in the bill was a significant section, included almost as an afterthought the new bill proposes a "new openess" to government.

Under the proposed bill, Management and Services Board will change its name to the Legislative Assembly Board of Management and the board meetings will be open to the public -- much like a civic council meeting.

Board member Charles Dent said the idea had come up at several of the meetings.

"We sort of kicked it around, 'Why shouldn't we be open to the public?'" Dent said.

He said the usual debate was over member's privacy in debate.

"Much of the reason in that discussion was that many times there were personnel issues," Dent said. "But just like a city council or a school board, when there are personnel issues, (board members) can vote to go in camera."

Legislative clerk David Hamilton said the bill grew out of the public concern from the conflict of interest hearings.

"It was part of the fallout from the Morin Inquiry," said the legislature's clerk David Hamilton.

"People were concerned that, here was this board that was determining who would and who would not get funded and it wasn't fully public."

During the Morin Inquiry, Justice John Vertes ruled that the board -- and not the conflict of interest commissioner, had the authority to decide who should or should not be entitled to have legal costs paid.

Hamilton underlines this point by saying that some people have called the MSB the Mystery and Secrecy Board instead of the Management and Services Board.

"(Justice Vertes) made some comment in his ruling that maybe there needs to be a more open process where the public is more aware of why decisions are made in the ways that they are," Hamilton said.

"There has been some concern that some of the decisions should be made in a way where the process in making decisions is made public so there is no one leaking information or accused of leaking information."

Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen said she is pleased with the change because the board was previously not only closed to the public, but also closed to members.

"Before, I was reprimanded for just speaking to the media about MSB decisions," she said.

"That's how secretive it was."

Hamilton said the change all comes as a package, together with the change to the MLAs' compensation system, to make all information transparent and streamlined and with the Morin Inquiry's fallout with calls for more openness generally.

"The board thought, 'May as well go with it and make everything open and above board.' It all comes as a package," Hamilton said.

Speaker Sam Gargan is on the board along with the only minister, Charles Dent.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes, Rae-Edzo MLA Joe Rabesca and Tu Nedhe MLA Don Morin are also on the board.

The current board may meet to perform ongoing business until Oct. 21 and the changes will not come into effect until Dec. 7, the day after the territorial election.