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Monday, August 25, 2008

Beware of greedy leaders who take you where you should not go

Reader-submitted question: Am I correct in stating that the NWT, like Nunavut, does not have political parties at the territorial level?

Yes. When Nunavut split from us, they took our form of government with them. As far as I know, it is unique.

This tends to be hard for people who aren't from the north to understand, but I will try to explain. I am not really an expert on consensus-style government, but I have picked up the main points over my time living here. We do not have territorial political parties: although elected representatives may personally identify with one of the federal parties, we don't have the same system here.

All of our members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) sit as independents. They do not have any formal links to each other, and they do not run for office based on any unified platform that could be easily summed up with a word or two.

After the election, the MLAs select a premier from among themselves. This is the opposite of the way it's done in the rest of Canada, where the leader of the political party with the most seats automatically becomes the premier. Remember, we don't have parties. There is no easy way to tell if the majority of the MLAs are environmentalists or tough on crime or whatever, so they have no clear leader right after the election. After they elect the premier, they elect the cabinet. Again, this is very different from the way it's done in the rest of Canada, where the premier chooses the cabinet.

It's not really a rule, but our legislative assemblies have generally decided to elect cabinet ministers based on where they're from. I'm totally serious. One third are from Name of Town Withheld, one third are from the southern NWT and one third are from the northern NWT. This is formalised: they do it in three rounds. Regional representation is a big deal: there is a constant concern that Name of Town Withheld is going to take over and get more than its fair share.

The premier then assigns departments to cabinet ministers. He can't remove them from cabinet; he can only take away their portfolios. This happens from time to time. Only the MLAs can remove someone from cabinet. They do this from time to time.

Although question period is what gets on TV, it has always seemed to me that the real work happens at the committee level. Non-cabinet MLAs are assigned to committees that review legislation and budgets. They also meet with cabinet ministers to discuss programs or anything else that might be relevant. These meetings are often held in communities, where anyone can show up to hear what's said or make a presentation to the committee.

Because we do not have political parties, you will not generally find organised opposition to proposed legislation. Federal politicians will push legislative initiatives based on the mandates their parties received on election day. Opposition parties will push back (some of the time). We have no opposition parties, at least not formal ones. I have heard some people refer to the non-cabinet MLAs as the "unofficial opposition", but it really only seems that way if your only experience with the system is watching question period. They do ask questions, but I don't think that automatically makes them the opposition.

I hope this is an acceptable overview. More information about this style of government is available on the Legislative Assembly's website.

Thanks for your question.


Way Way Up said...

Your welcome :)

And thanks for the clarification.

Way Way Up said...

oops, that should read "You're welcome".