Floyd Roland officially announced that he will not seek re-election in the Northwest Territories legislature last week and thus is not a candidate for premier after the election in the fall.
This is a good thing for the NWT.
Roland never recovered from the loss of credibility in the eyes of the electorate suffered from the scandals in his personal life early in his term. After that he became a lame duck premier not unlike Ed Stelmach in Alberta, who has also, for very different reasons, lost the confidence of his party and the electorate, and it is now just a matter of time before he moves on (or is moved out).
Roland also carries the massive weight of the boondoggle that is the Deh Cho bridge on his shoulders. Although Joe Handley was premier when the commitment to the project was made in the dying moments of his term, and he has been blamed for the problems, Roland was the finance minister at the time and had been DPW minister before that. He was a key player and deserves any credit, or blame for that project. There was considerable risk-taking involved in the plan and it could be called visionary, but the hurried manner of the decision-making and the serious mistakes in choosing the project manager and main construction company were his responsibility when he took over the new assembly as premier. The subsequent problems and the millions of dollars they cost rests squarely on his shoulders. When the project is finally done – roughly two years late and 40 million over budget – Handley and Roland will be there to suck up the applause, and they will deserve it. Hopefully that bridge will be beautiful and a boon to all NWT citizens in the near future. But make a point never to go to Handley or Roland for advice on how to run projects on time and on budget.
Notably, the one person who is never mentioned in the criticism of the bridge project is DPW minister Michael McLeod, whose department has now taken complete ownership of the project. As the MLA from Fort Providence he too has been a key part of the project from inception. He too deserves to carry a share of the burden for all the problems.
Another area where Roland was weak as a premier was the way his government functioned. He seemed to either ignore or was unable to handle the fundamentals of consensus government. The assembly with him at the helm was filled with rancor, often divided, polarized with ordinary ministers pitted against the government. Hard feelings mounted with each issue and worsened in time. The complaints routinely were over a lack of transparency and that decisions were made in the back rooms. Ordinary members claimed they were shut out of the process of government.
Roland attempted last year to put all his past problems behind him and regain the confidence of the electorate with his round table initiative on fostering a future direction for the NWT. That held great promise, both for Roland and the NWT, but it was stopped in its tracks when the federal government announced its plans for devolution. Then the swords came out. Once again the debate raged, differences emerged and polarization resulted. Ironically Roland, who is a native person and led a legislature dominated by First Nation MLAs, was pitted against First Nation leaders, and neither side could find common ground. The accusations flew once again about Roland’s lack of transparency and back-room deals and rancor dominated discussions, rendering them unproductive. Was all that simply terrible timing, the ‘luck’ factor of politics that can never be predicted, that undid Floyd Roland’s come-back bid, or was it his lack of leadership and inability to find the way through the maze to a solution where he could have been a hero?
Interestingly Roland shared nothing on devolution with the NWT Member of Parliament, nor was Dennis Bevington invited into the process in any way in spite of his access to resources, connections and abilities that might have assisted. And in the recent federal election, Roland chose to endorse the Conservative candidate, ignoring the need for the NWT premier to remain non-partisan and be able to work with any future MP, regardless of party affiliation. He did that as premier, not as an individual, of course, representing the people of the NWT in that course of action. In so doing, Roland chose to ignore the commitment of the NWT government to remain a non-party political system, which is fundamental to a consensus government system. Party systems are based on polarization of ideas and policies, are combative and rancor naturally results. Sound familiar? Maybe Roland should run federally next time.
There are lessons to be learned here – certainly some things not to do – for the next NWT premier, whoever that might be.