If the confusion in the legislature over the removal of Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Katrina Nokleby from cabinet pointed out anything, it’s that the system of government we have is not working.  

It was a brave move for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn to put forward the motion calling for the removal of Katrina Nokleby as head of ITI and unfortunate that it did not reach the floor for more transparency and debate. Sadly, it only contributed to the sense of a weak government. 

We can only hope, too, that abandoning that action does not give this cabinet the mistaken notion that whatever they do is OK. It’s not.

As has been said many times in the past, consensus government does not allow for healthy and robust debate, transparency and accountability. Thus representation for all residents of the NWT is often not heard. Questions from the regular MLAs who represent them are too often ignored. I truly feel for the MLAs who were willing to support the motion who, in the end, were left holding the bag.  

In a style of government where former premier Bob McLeod once said, all you need is two or three regular members to support you and you can do what you want, it is becoming increasingly apparent this cabinet wants to govern in a way which lends itself easily to micromanagement,  power and control and to leave concerns from regular MLAs unheard. This is not government by the people for the people. Instead, it is more like a corporation headed by a CEO. Yet we are not a business, we are people who live here because we love this land and this territory.

Before this new slate of MLAs was elected and before the pandemic hit, there was an urgent cry across this country, and indeed the world, for more emphasis on climate change and that policies going forward needed to take environmental impacts of all projects into account. The voices of those questioning some of these environmentally destructive projects such as Taltson expansion and the proposed road into Nunavut have been ignored.

It has not gone unnoticed that while the minister of ITI attended many climate change rallies before the election, she has not attended any since then, while rarely missing an opportunity to attend mining gatherings. Where is the balance? 

Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek checks her notes while industry, tourism investment minister Katrina Nokleby speaks to reporters at the legislative building this past March.
NNSL file photo

Caroline Cochrane and herself have stated publicly that their doors are always open to representatives from the mining sector. It is no wonder then that a letter of support for Nokleby keeping her post came from the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. They have found the perfect ally. Yet, small businesses in Yellowknife and likely elsewhere throughout the North suffered horribly during the pandemic. Some business operators here said sales dropped 90 per cent. Thank goodness for help provided by the federal government.

Though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited Cochrane along with other provincial and territorial leaders to a gathering shortly after the election to discuss the importance of climate change, it did not even make the top 10 list of priorities in the territories when that was produced shortly after that meeting. And while the Yukon, which is now practising party politics, declared a climate change emergency, any hint of that here was ignored. We chose to pursue infrastructure projects that, for the most part, would feed the mines. That speaks volumes.

The pandemic took care of things in its own way, though, giving the Earth time to heal. Let’s hope policy makers reflect on the changes we have seen.

This non-confidence motion last week was not about gender or personal agendas. It was about whether the job being performed meets the needs of constituents throughout the North and tackled the diversity of issues in a balanced way. We have already seen other cabinet ministers thrown under the bus for overreaches of power, lack of transparency and more critical decision-making areas falling into fewer and fewer hands. It is no wonder regular MLAs are asking questions. 

Since we have a consensus government mostly by definition rather than practice, perhaps the public does need more tools to keep their governing bodies in check.  If new employees are not working out, they are removed after a short probationary period. We slug it out with under-performing MLAs for four years.

If last week’s activities proved anything, it is that we need a style of government where all voices are heard with open and honest debate. We do not have that now and there is no indication of us moving in that direction. We do not have consensus or conciliation; we have confrontation and it’s not working.

Let’s hope there is a strong grass roots group willing to bring this difficult task of looking for alternative governing frameworks to fruition. This government won’t because it has a vested interest in what is, but we need an alternative so that we can continue to enjoy living well in this democratic country we call home.

 

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  1. In our consensus style government, regular MLAs are regarded as the ‘unofficial opposition’ and some certainly relish the power that comes with holding the government accountable, especially when the job title almost begs confrontation with Cabinet. But consensus style government is not at fault if the regular MLAs have the power to hold a Minister accountable and make a motion to do so, only to change their minds and avoid the open and honest debate they looked to initiate.

    If anything, the antics of last week exposed plenty of flaws in the performance of regular MLAs. One is certainly left with the impression they exercised poor judgement, showed indecisiveness, likely had issues with communication or cooperation among themselves, lack conviction, enjoy their own level of secrecy and were blind to the ultimate ramifications of their collective actions. Consensus government is kind of beautiful in that holding Cabinet accountable takes accountable MLAs!