Premier’s Office Door is Half-Open at Best

Consensus government in the NWT: whispers in closed offices and cynical half-measures

Premier Bob McLeod’s release of a partial list of his meetings with lobbyists without revealing the purpose or what was discussed made it an empty gesture, and revealed his distaste for the idea of open and accountable government.

Consensus governance, with McLeod at the helm, has been marked by the exclusion of MLAs and voters. The public wanted more discussion about devolution, but was ignored. Ditto for hydraulic fracturing, and now this.

McLeod’s list goes back to January last year, well after the dust had settled on whatever discussions he and his ministers had had with oil industry lobbyists prior to hydraulic fracturing being allowed to proceed without an environmental review.

MLAs voted to create a lobbyist registry, but McLeod’s plan doesn’t come close to creating an independent body with a searchable database of all the encounters between the premier, cabinet ministers and the legions of lobbyists paid to bend their ears.

“We wanted to strike the right balance between transparency and the public’s right to know about these meetings and their right to privacy of individuals,” McLeod told the CBC.

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“We don’t want to scare people away from requesting meetings, if they don’t want people to know what they’re talking about. We feel we have a duty to protect third parties and protect their privacy.”

Fear and loathing

Why would anyone feel fear or shame that they were meeting with their government? That’s the same flimsy reasoning that once defended the secrecy of loans that BDIC’s predecessors made to the various enterprises started and propped up with taxpayers’ money.

It also falls short of the transparency and accountability the premier committed to during debate to establish a lobbyist registry, but abandoned after he received “proper advice.”

That counsel places the NWT offside with every other province. Who provided it? Was it the same source that urged the government to extend its term to four years without consulting voters? Was it an external source, or was McLeod just listening to the voice in his head?

Under McLeod’s interpretation of disclosure, the public will have to work through the territory’s notoriously slow access to information requests to get information about who is meeting with the government and why.

Consensus implies discussion and agreement with more players than the self-interested members of the territorial cabinet, or the premier acting alone. What right does a small group have to dictate terms to the majority?

It’s another point for voters to contemplate as the territory closes in on an election. McLeod will be out of the picture, if the established practice of a single term for premiers is maintained, so his opinion on the subject is irrelevant.

This being a consensus government, there is no guarantee that MLAs elected next October will pick up the torch. Will the new legislature seek full disclosure of lobbyists and their meetings with the government, or will it accept McLeod’s cynical half-measure?

Opinion

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