When it comes to politics, Northerners have become pretty pessimistic. People don’t expect much from politicians. Voter turnout is lacklustre. Cynicism is rampant. But this pessimism conceals a truth: Individual Northerners have more political power than they realize.
It’s thanks to consensus government that individual citizens can help change Northern politics without having to pledge their affiliation to any party.
Just look at Yellowknife lawyer Caroline Wawzonek who will be running in the Yellowknife South constituency in October’s territorial election.
She is a member of the Law Society of the Northwest Territories and sits on the board of directors for the NWT Chamber of Commerce, but she has no previous political experience that we know of.
Other benefits of our party-less system include better representation for smaller communities in the legislative assembly. In the provinces, the parties have a lot of say on what MLAs can and cannot do. In many situations the leader of the party – not the citizens who elected them – can coerce an MLA to vote the way the party wishes.
Our MLAs don’t need to worry about that. Under consensus government, voters decide which candidate in their constituency will be their best representative. There’s no need to vote strategically to keep a particular party out of office, all voters need to decide is which individual will faithfully stand up for their views.
But consensus government is a double-edged sword.
As we’ve argued before, our form of government favours the incumbent.
Our candidates may be free from the ideological constraints of any particular party, but they’re also on their own. They cannot rely on the many benefits that come with belonging to a party, such as access to an instantly recognizable brand, financial backing or a pre-made political platform.
Without these things, their individual personalities and finances are important factors in whether or not they get elected.
In party politics, a candidate has an entire organization to fall back on but in consensus government, winning elections requires candidates to identify, mobilize and inspire their supporters to turn out on election day.
This requires time and that time is now. The territorial election is Oct. 1, which means campaigning season is nigh.
That’s why interested candidates should be putting their names forward at their earliest possible convenience and incumbents should be letting the public know whether or not they’ll seek re-election.
Because consensus government tends to favour incumbents, any delay may dissuade potential challengers from entering the ring.
Wawzonek will be running in Yellowknife South. The seat has been held by Premier Bob McLeod for the past three terms. It’s uncertain whether he plans to seek re-election. He should let people know either way so voters and potential candidates, including Wawzonek, can start informing themselves.
For a serious candidate, running a campaign is a full-time job. They must hold up their lives to scrutiny. They must also bear the enormous financial and personal costs of running for office.
Wawzonek will have to take time off work during the campaign and unlike an MLA, she won’t be able to collect a salary.
The deck is stacked against the challengers. To even the playing field, it’s time for people to be clear with their intentions. So, are you running or not? People want to know.