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MLA's party politics proposal shot down

The legislative assembly roundly defeated a proposal by Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart last night that would allow party politics in the Northwest Territories, as MLAs and ministers spoke in favour of consensus government.

Testart’s proposed amendments to the Elections and Plebiscites Act failed almost unanimously, with Justice Minister Louis Sebert abstaining. The amendments would have allowed for the formation, registration and regulation of political parties in the NWT.

MLA Kieron Testart worked to introduce amendments in the legislative assembly Oct. 29 that would permit and regulate party politics. It was defeated almost unanimously.
Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

Consensus government only works if it follows its “true intent,” said Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu.

“It doesn’t work if cabinet doesn’t wish it to work,” he said. “The system where everyone is represented and everyone has a say is not coming out under this current consensus government.”

In a spirited debate around party politics, Beaulieu painted a picture of consensus government, a contorted version of its original vision and an imperfect system that must return to its roots to be effective.

Regular MLAs sit in opposition to cabinet and cannot attract a fair share of government resources to their constituencies. MLAs voting along cabinet lines are effectively backbenchers, he said.

“People would not give party politics a second thought if the current system were working the way it should work,” said Beaulieu.

And so, party politics “creep in.”

Disappointed that his colleagues focused largely on issues around consensus instead of debating the substance of his amendments, Testart told News/North the assembly had not seen such a spirited debate and public engagement “to this degree since they took office,” he said.

"I'm not proposing to dismantle consensus government,” said Testart in an interview.

“I am not proposing to change how we work in this building. I am proposing to add options to voters to make the decision for themselves.”

There is no current definition of political parties in the territory and the amendments would have “clearly defined” the roles, rights and responsibilities similarly to the regulation of political parties in other territorial and provincial jurisdictions.

Frustration with lack of accountability, transparency: Nadli

Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli agreed that consensus government has effectively become a party system of regular MLAs and cabinet, but he wouldn't support Testart's motion.

Testart's proposal is emerging from “frustration in terms of accountability and transparency,” said Nadli.

“What caused the movement to bring us to this inevitable point? How do you make ministers more accountable? The consensus government does not foster a very transparent and accountable process,” he said.

Consensus was created to serve the interests of Dene, Inuvialuit and Metis in the NWT, he said.

“That’s the experiment we have right now and we have to make it work,” said Nadli.

Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod noted that the territory built consensus on a mix of the Indigenous principles of a sharing circle and British-style parliamentary procedures.

“For an institution that prides itself on hearing the people, I don’t think we heard them on this one because there hasn’t been a groundswell of support for this,” said McLeod.

Bring party politics to public consultation, say MLAs

Testart should introduce party politics in a private members bill and put it to a public consultation or plebiscite, said several MLAs opposing his amendments.

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson said he initially committed to support Testart’s motion but changed his mind to back the will of residents.

Education Minister Caroline Cochrane cited her own concerns around the amendments creating financial barriers to running for political office.

She opposed the provision allowing candidates to spend $30,000 in the year preceding an election, and another $30,000 during the election period.

“I don’t know many people living in poverty who could come up with $60,000,” said Cochrane.

In her rise to territorial politics, Cochrane overcame financial barriers and is concerned party politics could limit aspiring politicians without the means to run expensive campaigns.

“That is not accessible to people in poverty. We have to be able to allow people to get into seats,” she said.