The NWT should consider introducing an MLA recall mechanism to enhance accountability said advocates to the Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures on Monday evening.
Several MLAs attended the meeting, as well as David Wasylciw, founder of the OpenNWT organization that promotes government transparency.
Wasylciw focussed on recommendation 27 in the Chief Electoral Officer’s Report on the Administration of the 2019 Territorial General Election, which states that “true accountability may be accomplished through providing the ability for electors for an electoral district to recall their MLA for reasons such as absenteeism, inactivity or misrepresentation.”
British Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that has recall measures for politicians.
The recommendation was included in the report because a recall system is a way to ensure a candidate has the support of a riding throughout the member’s whole term in office, Wasylciw said.
“Much the same as MLAs have to maintain confidence in the Premier and cabinet,” he said. “Or they can sort of pull them from their positions. And this would give the public the same ability with their MLA. It would simply be taking the model that MLAs already have, and extending that to the public.”
Shane Thompson, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, asked Wasylciw what level of disapproval of an MLA would trigger a recall.
“Organizationally, that number could be (about) 50 per cent of the riding (expressing disapproval),” said Wasylciw in response. “But the idea is that it’s a fairly high number. You don’t want it to be 10 or 20 per cent of voters saying that you’re not doing a great job, because then it ends up just being a political tool of the day. (And) you wouldn’t want to set it to 90 per cent because it’s just too high.”
The cost of embarking on a recall process would be “borne by the public,” Wasylciw said. It could be as simple as a physical or online petition.
If enough support for a recall was there, it would lead to a byelection and the regular election costs would be incurred.
“It’s important to note that, while it has passed in B.C. and it’s been talked about, it doesn’t get used much at all,” Wasylciw said. “And there’s barriers to it being used all the time, which is a good thing. It might never (be used), but it does provide the public with that tool. There does need to be ways that it can happen when voters are sufficiently upset with their representation.”
Wasylciw pointed out that recall procedures actually align with the consensus political system of the NWT and is similar to the way that members of the executive council are chosen.
Kevin O’Reilly, MLA for Frame Lake and who chaired the committee meeting, responded to Wasylciw’s presentation by saying that the current Legislative Assembly has a stricter code of conduct than in previous assemblies that can control behaviour like absenteeism that might make recall actions more attractive.
He added his concern that recalls can empower “disgruntled voters” to basically harass an MLA and impede their ability to work.
“I think there’s there’s a downside to this even in the consensus government if it were to be adopted,” he said.
Wasylciw acknowledged O’Reilly’s concern, and repeated a point raised by Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn, who said that support for a recall should be high enough that not it’s just targetting “frivolous action.”
“But at the same time, if the majority of voters in a riding do not support the actions of their MLA, why don’t they get a voice? And why don’t they have any option of doing anything about that? And right now, they have no recourse other than they’re told to wait for the next election. There really is no check and balance on that system, other than waiting out the four years.
“So while you do have a much better code of conduct, that should make it even more needless, for this to ever be used,” he said. “It’s still an important tool in the toolbox, and gives voters that extra check on the system, check and balance.”
The Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures has met four times since June to discuss the report on last year’s territorial election.
Written submissions from members of the public for the committee to consider will be accepted until Sept. 25.