I was asked by Cabin Radio what I thought about the date of the election — should it be moved to November or not. I said no date should be set until the fire is whipped and people are home. We need the voters cool, calm and collected on election day.
But there is a bigger reason I didn’t consider.
When the writ to signal the election period is dropped, the business of the GNWT stops. Yes, the road works continues, monthly checks are issued, payroll and bills are paid. The GNWT goes on autopilot.
When I was publisher of NNSL Media, GNWT advertising stopped or slowed to a trickle for two to three months after the writ was dropped. The theory is that the incumbent ministers, premier and MLAs might take advantage of promoting government programs they created to give them an edge in the election. Fair enough.
There’s also the political courtesy of the present MLAs not making promises the new MLAs would have to keep or else face the wrath of the people who took those promises to heart. No new programs or decisions can be made.
The month after the election, MLAs jockey for cabinet positions and premier’s chair, using ‘mandates’ and future ‘political support’ as bargaining chips, all personal gambles on territorial issues that have hampered our government since day one.
Then it takes another month for the new premier and cabinet to get engaged with staff and understand their roles.
These are three reasons we shut down all but essential government services for three months at election time.
These reasons are not as valid as the present need for quick decisions to repair the ongoing damage due to wildfires and evacuations. Enterprise needs immediate attention. Fort Smith, Hay River and Kakisa are all giant question marks right now, as is Yellowknife.
The costs of all these events are mounting daily. How we are going to pay for it all is a troubling question.
The bottom line is we can’t shut the government down for two or three months when the people need their leadership and civil service focused on immediate recovery and damage control. It can’t happen.
As much as I want change an election can bring, I know what the NWT needs now is our government functioning in emergency mode. (I didn’t say crisis mode because that mode means nothing anymore when it comes to mental health, housing and education, that’s just business as usual.)
Changing leadership now would invite greater disaster. We need experienced MLAs advocating for their constituents.
We might be looking at early 2024 for the election. So what? We will forget about that by 2025.
Right now we have to put our people and their needs first. Darker days may be coming.
—Bruce Valpy is a longtime Northerner living in Yellowknife and former publisher/CEO of NNSL Media. He has declared his candidacy for MLA in the upcoming territorial election.