As we look to elect the MLA’s for the 20th Legislative Assembly, we do it in a time of extreme global turmoil.
Wars, climate change, and extreme weather events are destabilizing the world. Economies are on the ropes. The cost of living is going through the roof as witnessed by the 50 year mortgages being offered for to homebuyers in some markets. The very rich get richer but the majority struggle to make ends meet while fighting off our collective despair about the type of world we are leaving our children.
At the centre of it all governments tinker, finger point, react, squabble, fight, with little idea of what to do, let alone how to do it. Governments around the world, including the NWT, are adrift, taking on water and heading for the rocks. In the midst of it all we are doing a crew change, an election, so we better all pay attention and make it a good one.
This election is an opportunity for us to elect a Legislature that will come aboard our ship of state and quickly chart us on a course to the future, away from the rocks of the status quo, enabling us to repair the many leaks and stop taking on water. For too long now the Assembly has spent more time bailing than setting a course for the future. It is time for all hands on deck.
The 2023 fire season showed us how ill prepared our government was and the next fire season is only 6 months away. There was no whole of government response which is consistent with the general approach of the 19th Assembly. If the 20th Assembly replicates the approach of the 19th Assembly, then our future is bleak.
The picking of the new crew of MLA’s is key. Let me offer some suggestions as you decide:
• Problem identification is the easy part, what you want from your MLA is constructive solutions, so check to see who gets things done and who has good ideas on the economy, housing, environment etc.
• Check the work ethic of the candidate. For example, from the Assembly attendance statistics you can see how some MLA’s have missed a lot of work, which in a regular job would get you fired. Is your constituency being well represented by an MLA who is chronically absent?
• Does or will a candidate work and collaborate with other leaders in their constituencies and across the NWT to get things done? This is what makes consensus government work.
• Does a candidate talk more about blame and their enemies than about representing everyone and the common good. If they do, they do not deserve your X.
To the new crew of MLA’s charting a clear quick course change for the 20th Assembly I offer the following comments:
• With every crisis comes many opportunities that can be seized.
• The role of government and MLA’s is to provide the political vision, the political will, creating the conditions to get things done.
• There are many critical issues facing the new Assembly. There is no time for protracted, internal reviews and studies by government.
• A fully engaged NWT leaders table is required to provide the broad co-governance oversight. This should be a whole of governments approach which would include Indigenous governments. No one government can go it alone.
• There is incredible knowledge and wisdom throughout the NWT in every sector and field of endeavour. An expedited political process, mapping out the best possible course ahead, needs to be informed by this wealth of Northern knowledge by way of short term, focused, working groups that report to the Leaders table, with clear recommendations.
• This extraordinary fire season has cost territorial and municipal governments much, much more than was budgeted and a new fire season is only 6 months away. There is no time to waste.
The NWT, after years of centralizing decision making and services in Yellowknife, has created an overweight, top-heavy bureaucracy and weak, hurting regions. The key to success is strong regions and a strong centre. That is the most critical part of the required course change. Who is at the helm is also critical. For the journey ahead, and to send a strong signal to us all, after 12 years of the Premier being from Yellowknife, and noting the crisis we are in, the next Premier should be from outside Yellowknife.
—Michael Miltenberger is a former longtime MLA and cabinet minister residing in Fort Smith.