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A consensus on government in Yellowknife South

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo. Caroline Wawzonek, right, stands beside fellow Yellowknife South candidate Gaeleen MacPherson to address a crowd of constituents at N.J. Macpherson School Monday night. The debate, hosted by OpenNWT, covered issues from climate change to consensus government. Sept. 23, 2019.

The candidates in retiring Premier Bob McLeod's riding have achieved consensus on our form of government.

Caroline Wawzonek and Gaeleen MacPherson, running in Yellowknife South, made comments Monday that weren’t far apart on whether or not the territory’s consensus-style government has worn out its welcome in the North.

Both candidates vying for a spot in the 19th Assembly told a crowd at N.J. Macpherson School – gathering for the final forum in a series of OpenNWT-hosted public debates on Sept. 23 – they wouldn’t support party politics.

“The fact that we’re not tied to any political area or idea means we’re able to bring the best ideas from all areas and bring them forward,” said Wawzonek, adding she’s been convinced of the consensus government concept’s place in the NWT after speaking with constituents during her run for MLA. 

The territory is one of two jurisdictions in the country that adheres to a consensus-style government. MLAs are elected as independents, who go on to select a speaker, half a dozen ministers and the territory’s premier — without party affiliations. 

The form of governance has been touted as being inclusive fashion between Western and Indigenous models, but some have questioned its effectiveness in recent months.

Earlier this year, Kam Lake MLA incumbent Kieron Testart pushed for a shift to party politics. The move wasn’t backed in the assembly, and the motion eventually failed. But the issue made its way into the debate Monday night. Both candidates were asked what their position on the model was, and what could be done to strengthen it. 

“I love our style of government,” said Gaeleen MacPherson. “It’s something I’m a fan of. I think it’s something that’s unique to the North and the Territories. Do I think it needs work? Yes.”

MacPherson went on to say the model fosters a collective, common ground vision when MLAs are working together — one that goes beyond “drawing the lines of party politics.”

Wawzonek agreed — the system isn't perfect.

But the candidate said concerns around government accountability — making sure the results promised by candidates are being delivered by MLAs — can be remedied by ensuring actionable items are actually being acted on. That will lead to better communication, trust and connection between the government and its constituents, said Wawzonek.

Action on climate change

Mounting worries about climate change and its impact on the North were also addressed by the pair of Yellowknife South candidates. 

Asked what she would do if elected to curb the encroaching threat, MacPherson, who worked for 15 years in the mining industry, said she’s all for development in the industry — but only if it’s responsible.

“We need to look at a lot more infrastructure that’s going to lessen our carbon footprint,” she said. MacPherson said the territory needs to explore — and invest — in alternative energy sources, including wind, solar and biomass energy, a sentiment shared by Wawzonek. 

“That's going to mean working with other municipalities in remote locations in terms of what makes sense for them; working with outside funders; making sure we’re incentivizing businesses,” said MacPherson.

Wawzonek said the next government needs to make sure the territory’s goals when it comes to climate change, outlined in its 2030 strategy, are being worked towards.

“We need to make sure we’re actually implementing the ideas we’ve already got and utilizing the ideas we’ve already got so we don’t get to 2030 and realize no one was made accountable for those action items,” said Wawzonek.