Reflections On My Time in Government and Why I am Running for Office
I just recently resigned as a Senior Advisor, Legislation and Legal Affairs, at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), GNWT in order to be a candidate for a member of our legislative assembly representing the riding of Yellowknife North. During this time I had the honour of working on a suite of new legislation that ENR was putting forward, which included the Protected Areas Act, Forest Act, Environmental Protection Act, Environmental Rights Act and Waters Act. As a young lawyer these are dream files to work on, to be able to curate and have input on modernizing our environmental regulatory regime which governs over a million square kilometres. Something my southern colleagues could only dream of. This legislation was also curated in conjunction with a technical working group made up of various Indigenous governments and organizations, a process that once again let the North be an example of what reconciliation and co-management with Indigenous governments can look like.
Of these Acts, only the Protected Areas Act was passed before I left government. The others will be left to the next assembly, I look forward to seeing these other Acts move through the rest of the process and am proud of the important work which has been done to date. The Protected Areas Act and Forest Act were taken on a tour of our communities by the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment. I toured along with this committee and got to see our MLAs and citizens provide input on the legislation I had been working on. This committee was chaired by my future opponent Cory Vanthuyne. Cory chaired the committee professionally and with respect for the process. Ultimately he did the best with what he could, navigating a committee featuring MLAs who disagree on many things and a minister and premier who were often unwilling to work with regular members. Eventually the committee in working with Cabinet managed to do exactly what they were designed to do, compromise. Agreements on amendments were reached and I am proud to say that the Protected Areas Act in the NWT establishes one of the best conservation regimes in the world, and the amendments brought forward in the legislative assembly improved the legislation. We should all be proud of the Protected Areas Act and of the achievement that is Thaidene Nene National Park and Protected Area. It is regretful that our Forest Act did not make it through in the life of this assembly but I am confident in the work that has been done to date. Ultimately the Protected Areas Act process is a template for all GNWT legislation to follow. Yet there are glaring and obvious issues that made achieving this government's ambitious mandate an impossibility from the start.
Ultimately I decided to run for office because of a lack of transparency. A lack of transparency that is prevalent in all levels of our current government. All too often in the GNWT a potential idea goes up through the bottleneck of approvals and comes down altered or removed with no communication to staff of the reasoning. Staff who would then have to relay this decision to stakeholders with incomplete reasoning of why a position was taken. Such decisions are most often made by our deputy ministers who, by the nature of the position of having to work under rotating ministers and maintain a somewhat apolitical appearance, are risk averse. Our deputy ministers are amongst the most competent and intelligent people in the GNWT, this is no slight on them, but the position operates in an unwarranted secrecy such that regular members, staff, the public, and even cabinet are not aware of when decisions are filtered out. Having the final say on how an issue is framed and what decisions go in a decision paper, makes our deputy ministers more influential than the ministers they serve. The lack of communication of the reasons for why such decisions are made is a disservice to the entirety of the territory. This behind closed door decision making by bureaucrats leads to apathy throughout government. As our governments expand and the power given to administrative decision makers increase, we must adapt to ensure that such positions of power are brought into the public eye. Having our elected officials become figureheads while offloading more and more power to the bureaucracy is not democracy.
The second major hurdle our legislature faces as an institution is one of mistrust and infighting. The mistrust between cabinet and regular MLAs is at times understandable, yet nevertheless unfortunate. Consensus government only works if our elected officials are willing to compromise and not exploit every opportunity for political advantage. We elect officials for four years, because that is supposed to be long enough between votes to allow cooperating and compromise without needing to battle and worry about your job or battle for a cabinet spot at the next election. Unfortunately this assembly was far more antagonistic from the get-go than consensus government ever intended.
Politics is not meant to be nice or pretty, but it is meant to be conducted in a manner consistent with the spirit of the institutions in which it operates. The spirit of consensus government is to work together for betterment of the entire territory and all its people. The fact that this system has broken down, has been reflected in the Special Committee on Transition Matters calling many of the key roles of our committees into question. The understandable, yet misguided push by regular member Kieron Testart to establish political parties is also a reflection that the spirit of consensus government has broken down. At the end of the day, our elected officials must hold the blame for this failure, for if our elected leadership is not responsible in a democracy, who is? Admittedly Premier Bob Mcleod has been a strong leader in managing a difficult assembly, and I commend him on such a difficult task, but as the leader of our government he must also reflect on the damage to the spirit of consensus government that has occurred under his two terms as premier. Is the sacrifice of of our institutions worth the short term political gains he has made? The answer to this is a clear no and in times of increasing political populism around the world, we must not act like the NWT is immune to brash and ill thought out politics that we have seen from likes of Trump, Ford or Bernier. I shudder when I see our premier fighting for the Conservative Party on a national front and not for the North. It is a blessing of the NWT that we have not adopted political parties, and we must cherish this. The creed of every NWT politician is the North first, not party. This creed is enacted in our MLA's thinking in longer terms beyond election cycles, thinking not of their own personal careers, but on building consensus and strength in the institution and territory they are blessed to caretake for a short period. Only such a spirit can guide the NWT through the tough times ahead.
Now I myself am a realist first and foremost, and I understand the horse trading shall never be removed from politics, but we must all work to hold accountable politicians when they fail to respect our institutions. We must treat the spirit of consensus government as sacred as the rule of law. Something never to be sacrificed for partisan reasons. The last assembly failed in that mission. Personality disputes were present to any observer. It is the role of any elected official to put personal disagreements aside and work on the policy they are creating regardless of who sits across from you and how they voted on the last issue. I am running for office because I feel that a cultural change at the GNWT is needed. I believe consensus government is the path forward. I believe the NWT must remain immune from left or right wing populists looking to make false promises that undermine our institutions. We are all in this together, the blame and responsibility falls on all the citizens of the NWT, our voice will be reflected this fall at the ballot box, let none of us take that choice lightly.