According to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics. That makes the two years since the 18th Legislative Assembly was elected an eternity.
During the campaign, accountability and transparency were much-discussed issues, and voters made good their desire for change by electing an unprecedented 11 new MLAs, including me. One of the ways all Members decided to increase accountability was to hold a mid-term review on the performance of the premier and cabinet. The review would be the first in 20 years.
The rules and procedures committee worked hard to create a process that was open and fair. For me, it was important to create a process that was evidence-based and removed from the self-serving “let’s make a deal” process that leads up the election of the premier and cabinet by the territorial leadership committee.
The mid-term review took place on Thursday, Oct. 5. The first sign of trouble came right at the start when the MLA for Hay River North asked cabinet if they would honour the results of the confidence motions that would be passed after the question and answer session. Each cabinet minister said no, not unless they were forced to by motion in the house during a regular sitting. Their position reflects the minority report filed by the cabinet minister – Justice Minister Louis Sebert – who is on the rules and procedures committee about the mid-term review. The report notes that confidence motions are not binding unless they are passed in the house. It goes on to say, “the recommendation proposed here can be interpreted as one meant to embarrass or shame a minister into resigning without having the knowledge of which of their colleagues lack faith in their abilities
It’s important to note that members are elected to executive council by a secret ballot and then confirmed by a motion in the house. But in the reverse, rather than leaving when asked, cabinet ministers want to be thrown out the door. This approach is not compatible with the accountability all members made a big deal about at the beginning. It reveals that arrogance comes with power. It turns out that consensus government has nothing special to offer when it comes to accountability.
Why does any of this matter? It’s easy to write Oct. 5 off simply as a day of political drama. But what’s at stake is the quality of services government provides to NWT residents. It’s about whether there is an effective program for men who want to learn how to respond to anger without violence; whether schools are adequately funded for their multiplying jobs; or whether cutting spending to create a surplus of funds for road construction is a vision shared by most members.
The job of a minister is an important one. Ministers are held responsible for their leadership and the work of their departments in the assembly. If the members of the legislative assembly believe ministers are not effective in his/her role after a fact-based process members have agreed to respect, then it is clear that minister’s leadership is no longer wanted. Having every member of cabinet say they don’t care what the members think about their performance is not only disrespectful of the will of the majority of the assembly, it defends bad performance and poor public service using the kind of tactics that give politics a bad name.
I’m disappointed that the mid-term review didn’t produce the change I wanted to see for constituents and for the territory as a whole. We tried to do politics differently and we failed. Was it worth a try? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not.