The territorial government hopes to become more transparent during transition by involving the public and the media in the process for the first time.
Sahtu MLA and caucus chair Norman Yakeleya led the Special Committee on Transition Matters, formed several months before the end of the 17th Assembly, which tabled in the house an 80-page report detailing the priorities and goals of the current class of MLAs and recommendations for those elected to the 18th Assembly on Nov. 23.
Nominations for prospective candidates are open from Oct. 26 until Oct. 30 at 2 p.m.
Possibly most significant among the recommendations is that the premier and cabinet create a mandate outlining priorities for the new assembly based on presentations from individual MLAs in the house. Yakeleya, who served as a cabinet minister during the 15th Assembly, said the executive committee is to write the mandate behind closed doors but return to regular MLAs for feedback once a first draft has been completed.
“Usually a transition document like this is put together by the senior bureaucrats,” he said. “This time, the members wanted to be involved in the transition process so we as MLAs give the best report to the 18th Assembly. We want to be more in charge of the assembly so it’s a real big step, and sharing this document with the public is a big thing.”
Concerns over transparency or a lack thereof with the GNWT have been raised in the past. Outgoing Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said during the final eight-day sitting of the 17th Assembly earlier this month that cabinet “neither requires nor welcomes our input into matters of state” and regular MLAs are “an annoyance to be swatted away like a mosquito.”
Bromley complained regular MLAs found out about major policy decisions like the $50 million given to the NTPC for diesel cost overruns and that Stanton Territorial Hospital would be replaced, not renovated, in the newspaper along with the public.
“There appears to be clear and deliberate intent to bypass any involvement of MLAs in the decision-making process that the principles of consensus government define and all of us are sworn to uphold.”
Shaking up cabinet (or not)
The committee’s report also provides an orientation that could be useful to new MLAs on the overall economic climate in the NWT, the current decision-making environment faced by lawmakers, plus recommendations on the transition process that takes place between legislative assemblies and on where the new crop of MLAs should focus their attention.
Yakeleya said it is an important document for the public to be familiar with, particularly ahead of the territorial election.
The committee did not recommend how the 18th Assembly should attain regional balance within cabinet but it did discuss different approaches to the unwritten convention that ensures cabinet represents the entire territory, known informally as the 2-2-2 principle: two northern MLAs, two Yellowknife MLAs and two South Slave MLAs. Some thought Yellowknife should get an extra seat to reflect its share of about half the entire NWT population, others supported a 2-2-2-1 policy with one MLA elected to cabinet “at large” in order to shore up other “deficiencies in representation, for example, more women.”
In both cases cabinet would then elect a premier in secret from amongst themselves. The transition committee did not discuss the companion convention that says the premiership should similarly rotate between NWT regions.
Yakeleya said finding the best candidate for the job should trump regional considerations.
“Our recommendation is to look at the process,” he said. “If it is the will of the MLAs of the 18th to select the two, two and two for cabinet and select the premier at-large from the group of us (all 19 MLAs), there is a possibility you could get a two-term premier.”
Priorities for the next assembly
The committee suggested the 18th Assembly focus on five “key areas,” noting because of the “long-term nature” of the work, many priorities would overlap with those of the 17th. Quoting directly from the report, in no particular order the suggestions are:
- Reverse the social ills that hold our people down, particularly low education levels, addictions and poor mental health;
- Strengthen and diversify our economy in anticipation of impending diamond mine closures;
- Complete devolution of land and resources and implement a regulatory system that reflects the values of our residents and partner governments;
- Rein in the increasing cost of living, particularly energy, housing and food; and
- Plan for and adapt to a changing climate in the North.
The report said not every member agreed on their relative importance, but setting the priorities is a departure from the vision statements of previous assemblies, which according to the report “have tended to be very broad (and) of little value to Cabinet … or standing committees.”
Instead, the transition report includes about three paragraphs under each priority. Under “strengthen and diversify our economy,” for example, the committee recommended that the new MLAs invest in infrastructure in order to open more of the NWT up to exploration.
“We can no longer risk keeping all of our eggs in one basket,” the report reads. “Skill development, diversification and improving the conditions for entrepreneurship and capital investment must continue if we are to meet our goal of increasing the NWT population.”
The committee also encouraged incoming MLAs to tackle energy rates and pursue the federal government for help on public housing and the cost of basic food items.
“Every resident, business and community is impacted by the high cost of living in the NWT. It is also an impediment to attracting new residents and is a significant factor for many who leave.”