Elections NWT Head: Big Status Quo Fan

Latour’s edict prohibits candidates from electioneering outside the bounds of the election period, while sitting MLAs continue to make full use of social media and other promotional perks of office

Territorial MLAs met in secret this week to discuss the final sitting of the legislature and perhaps bid adieu to those who will retire before the November 23 election — and maybe even discuss the latest ruling by the NWT’s new Chief Electoral Officer.

They would remember Nicole Latour from her years at the Legislative Assembly. She succeeded David Brock after the last election and has been dispensing decrees and rulings that deflect challenges to the status quo.

For instance: some voters who self–identify as Liberals and contemplated running candidates under the party banner in November say that Latour told them they could not declare their party affiliation on the ballots.

Questioned on that point, Latour’s office cited territorial legislation that says the ballot must include the names of candidates and their likeness. It is silent on the question of party affiliation, which Latour interprets to mean that any mention of affiliation is prohibited.

A thumbnail biography posted on the Elections NWT website states that Latour holds a Commerce degree and other academic accreditations, served as mayor of Fort Liard, and was the first female Sergeant at Arms for the Legislative Assembly. Grand accomplishments, but not a line about legal expertise.

So we sought counsel at the University of Alberta. Eric Adams, an expert on constitutional law, wrote in response to a query that as “a general rule of statutory interpretation and the rule of law, citizens have the general liberty to act unless constrained by law from doing so.”

We take that to mean that if it ain’t prohibited, it may be permitted. The territory’s legislators could quickly clear away any misunderstanding by making the law explicit: ballots may include party affiliation, or they may not. 

However, outright prohibition could invite a Charter challenge, which the GNWT would surely lose. So leave it alone, appears to be the thinking.

Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt

Lack of movement is consistent with the territory’s general law of inertia, first noted by a friend who has since moved on, during a discussion on why political change, if it happens at all in the NWT, proceeds so slowly.

“Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt,” was his way of summing up the energy that sustains the status quo here on the frozen frontier. It’s an attitude widely shared by legislators, and even those who would compete for a seat on the GNWT gravy train.

How else to explain the total absence of concern for Latour’s latest edict, prohibiting candidates from engaging in electioneering outside the bounds of the election period, which according to Latour does not begin until October 26.

Brock saw it differently. In the 2011 election, Latour’s predecessor, if not her mentor, allowed candidates to post signs and canvass voters for months leading up to the vote, but restricted their total campaign spending to $30,000. This seems a more equitable approach, one that helps challengers overcome incumbent advantage.

Newbies like Julie Green and Dan Wong or Cory Vanthuyne should be excused if they coloured outside the new lines, and knocked on a door or 10 or spread their message through social media.

No one, except Latour, and maybe sitting MLAs who continue to make full use of social media and other promotional perks of office, would have been upset if anyone had challenged the CEO’s edict. But we all rolled over like fat pussy cats, perhaps out of respect for the first law of inertia.

While they s’mored it up around the campfire this week, MLAs might have asked each other if the new CEO’s rulings were fair, and then asked themselves this: could they get elected if they had to secure the nomination of a political party and run on a platform that made them accountable to voters?

Would they have a seat on the GNWT gravy train, with its fat pensions and promises of appointments to boards and commissions awaiting their eventual retirement, without recourse to the territory’s guiding principle: nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.

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