Governing with Impunity


In a move worthy of a dictatorship in some distant banana republic, the Northwest Territories unelected premier, cabinet, and a handful of MLAs in what passes for the official opposition in the territory’s sorry pantomime of consensus governance have voted to extend their term in office, likely until sometime in 2016.

The gang of 11 waited until the last days of the legislative session, possibly in the hope of avoiding a public mauling at the hands of the seven MLAs who stood against the unprecedented measure. Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley called the move “unethical and embarrassing.

“To give ourselves this authority without going to the people and with no public input shows a cavalier disdain for the voters of the Northwest Territories. One can only imagine that there has been some degree of secret communication between this government and the federal government, as this action will require changes to both federal and territorial legislation, something that normally would take years to achieve.”

The reason for skipping the anticipated vote in October 2015, according to Jane Groenewegen who sponsored the motion, was an insult masked as concern for the electorate: faced with territorial, municipal and federal elections in the same month, voters might be too confused or fatigued by the democratic process to accurately cast ballots – or cast them at all.

Several of those who voted to extend their time on the public teat aren’t likely to seek another term. Groenewegen and Michael Miltenberger, who seconded the motion, have been around since 1995. They will max out their pension benefits without having to face voters again. Bob McLeod can’t be premier again, so there is no incentive for him to test voters’ patience. In Yellowknife, only Health minister Glen Abernethy and Industry and Investment minister Dave Ramsay will be around to face the consequences.

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The surprise move was consistent with the current government’s disdain for public opinion. It ignored a call to invest at least 25 per cent of resource royalties that will accrue from devolution in a legacy fund for future generations; it redistributed electoral boundaries in ways that few found acceptable; it has stood by while the federal government forsake regional land boards in favour of one super board; it bullied public servants into not signing a petition that called for a review of hydraulic fracturing.

All of this was done under the banner of the sham known as consensus governance. So far, the government has made no move to address a serious shortcoming identified in the most recent report from the electoral boundaries commission. The commission expressed concern that many people in the territory, especially those living in remote communities, have little understanding of what goes on in the Tin Palace in Yellowknife, the House of Commons, or even their own regional governments.

It is evident now that the government prefers it that way. If a significant block of voters is in the dark, so much the better. Tell them that whatever is done is in their best interests, and it’s a fairly certain bet that the politicians will be believed – regardless of the issue. That seems to be the thinking in the Tin Palace.

There are signs of cracks, however. There is significant opposition in the Sahtu and elsewhere to the government’s enthusiasm for hydraulic fracturing. Bromley tabled a petition with the names of 800 people who want a full review of the controversial process before another well is drilled. And a petition hastily mounted by Yellowknife lawyer and former city councilor Paul Falvo drew the signatures of more than 200 people opposed to the government’s self-extended term in office.

Falvo told The Northern Journal the motion to extend the term of the current legislature was “undemocratic. It shows contempt for people because they’re saying we’re too dumb to figure out how elections work, or they want to be doing this work on devolution regardless of what the people say.”

Meanwhile, the government has mounted a campaign to attract immigration to the territory which has been losing population and federal payments at a disturbing rate. The immediate goal is 2,000 more warm, tax-paying bodies. But who would move to a place where their views are ignored and their votes count as nothing? It would be like settling in some banana republic, and a frozen one at that.

– Jack Danylchuk


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