Dear Mr Menicoche,
My name is Ollie. I’m a volunteer in Fort Liard, part of the Nahendeh region of the Northwest Territories that you represent as a member of the NWT’s Legislative Assembly.
You may remember me. We met last month, when I brought a party of five Fort Liard teenagers to the Legislative Assembly for the morning.
We watched you address your fellow MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) on the subject of a much-needed ambulance for Fort Liard; then we had the pleasure of meeting you, and you spoke briefly to our kids about your job, the skills you need to do that job, and why it’s important – as a politician – to listen as well as talk.
I hope you listen to this.
Here is an excerpt from a report posted by Canadian broadcaster CBC earlier today:
A committee of regular N.W.T. MLAs will decide, behind closed doors, what to do about two of their own who missed meetings due to excessive drinking.
Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche and Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. drank excessively Thursday night and into Friday morning. They both missed a full-day committee meeting Friday. Menicoche, who chairs the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning which was meeting, also missed a half-day meeting the next day.
Menicoche refused to do an interview about the incident, but admitted he missed that day’s meeting and the next due to excessive alcohol consumption. He said he is waiting for a place in an alcohol treatment program and will likely have to take time off to attend it.
Menicoche said he has asked the legislature to charge him for the additional costs associated with leaving Inuvik earlier than planned. The same committee, made up of all MLAs not on cabinet, will decide what, if anything, to do about the incident.
It’s hard to find words for this betrayal of those five Fort Liard teenagers you met, the rest of their community and the other communities you serve as an elected representative.
Let’s leave to one side, for now, the important issue of your ability to represent anyone when you’re too drunk to turn up for work.
I’m more concerned about the lasting, irreparable damage to a community where many children find the fight against alcohol and its associated abuses to be a grim, daily exercise in near-futility.
One teenager who listened to you speak was so enamoured of your occupation and your views that they came away inspired to be an MLA in future. Theirs is a home life dominated by alcohol that they have struggled, bravely, to rise above.
Another teenager you’ve previously met has barely been to school for the last two weeks; they are too busy looking after siblings while their parents drink.
I wonder what they will think.
I am pleased to hear you are seeking treatment for alcohol dependency. I know all too well, from my time in Fort Liard, the power of alcohol to command and destroy lives. I doubt you set out, as an MLA, to get drunk and miss meetings. I’m sure you feel pretty terrible already and I’ve no great desire to add to that. I understand the complexities.
You, in turn, must understand the scale of this betrayal and the extent to which you lose the ability to guide your communities’ youth, who look to you as a role model.
When we met, you offered to speak with more youth on your next trip to Fort Liard. When I began writing this, I wasn’t sure I could accept that offer any longer. What are the kids supposed to learn? That even some of the most powerful elected representatives in the Northwest Territories spend days in an alcoholic fug, regardless of their obligations?
Children here see the extremes of alcohol. I have worked hard to talk with them about alcohol in realistic terms: nobody can be expected to live their entire life teetotal and I would never pretend otherwise to the kids.
I try to explain to them that alcohol in moderation can be a harmless feature of anyone’s life. A glass of wine with a meal, maybe; a beer with friends. Millions of people consume alcohol, now and then, to no detrimental effect on their own life or the lives of others. Fort Liard’s kids need to understand that, need to see the middle ground between the extremes.
The trouble is, what they mostly see is adults opening a bottle of something alcoholic, then drinking for days until the last available dregs are exhausted or the money runs out.
Now, as they will surely understand it, here’s their MLA on the same path.
You declined an interview with the CBC regarding your alcohol abuse. Will you, when you next come to Fort Liard, talk frankly and openly to the community’s youth about your alcohol dependency issue, how it has affected your work, and how you plan to tackle it and recover?
They need to hear you confront alcohol – because so few others in their lives do.
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to present your powerful and compelling case study to tomorrow’s leaders of the Northwest Territories, at a date of your choosing, in Fort Liard.
You can contact me here. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you to create a brighter future for the children of the Nahendeh region, free from the wreckage of alcohol.
Edit Wednesday, 17 April at 6.45pm local time: I’ve removed some details relating to Fort Liard teenagers as it’s been correctly pointed out to me that it’s both unnecessary here, and reasonably easy in a small community to identify individuals with even the briefest information.