MLAs on the Special Committee on Transition Matters held a long discussion about the possible merits and drawbacks of introducing parliamentary groups to the Northwest Territories’ consensus government system on Friday.
Kieron Testart, MLA for Kam Lake, tabled a discussion paper and held a presentation to make his case for what he says is an important organizational tool for the legislative assembly.
What is a caucus/parliamentary group?
“A parliamentary group or caucus is a group consisting of members of the same political alignment in a legislative assembly such as a parliament or city council,” a slide from the presentation states.
“Caucuses do not have formal standing in a legislature but serve as an important organizational tool for members to ensure the issues important to the group are acted on, both inside and outside of the institution.”
Caucuses could be organized to represent special interests, issues and regional concerns, said Testart. In other legislatures, caucuses receive funding through their legislature to hire staff and conduct research and analysis regarding those issues.
Testart said the proposal was prompted by concerns he’s heard from regular MLAs over the years, including a need for stronger political cohesion between regular members.
“When relationships in this institution break down, it can cause political tension, it can delay legislative work and can get us into situations that I think members of this institution think we are beyond because we don’t have political parties,” explained Testart.
If a group can’t work together but is forced to by convention, that can be problematic, he said.
“So having a more flexible structure that allows members to come and go based on their support of the shared goals of the members is important as well,” said Testart.
Testart also cited a current "inability to direct membership on the committee or effectively take disciplinary action" as well as a lack of resources and staff to support regular MLAs and their activities.
“I think strengthening the ability of regular members to develop alternative policy proposals to what the government’s working on, that’s something that’s come up," he said. "And time and time again, members have said we don’t have the resources or time to get into that.”
Having dedicated staff like a communications officer, legislative co-ordinator and chief political adviser would support the work of regular MLAs, and bring their level of resources on par with those of cabinet MLAs.
The presentation concluded with three recommendations:
- That the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning be dissolved and a new caucus should be created with mandatory membership for all regular members.
- That the policies and/or legislation governing the legislative assembly be amended to provide for fair and effective funding for caucuses and establish minimum thresholds for caucuses funding.
- That the rules of the legislative assembly be amended, where appropriate, to give formal standing to the chair of the regular member caucus, allow for certain discretionary appointments over legislative assignments and increase remuneration of the role commensurate to these new responsibilities.
Committee chair R.J. Simpson was quick to remind members that the committee was not responsible for implementing or even making a decision on the matter, but rather would develop recommendations for the next assembly to consider.