Changing Politics- Part 4, The Northwest Territories democratic advantage

In part 1 of this series, reference was made to a more direct form of democratic representation that puts the people ahead of political parties. The example used was the NorthWest Territories consensus government, in which all members are Independent Members and do not belong to a political party caucus. This form of government has been in place for over 40 years.

Unlike the party system, the consensus governing style provides a clearer path in the political decision-making and formation of policy. There is more co-operation and communications between regular Members of the NWT Legislature and Cabinet, which is generally strained in the Alberta Legislature.

This communication and co-operation allows all legislation, major policies, and proposed budgets, to pass through the Regular Members’ standing committees before it is tabled in the House. This process gives Members consistent access to make changes after consulting with their constituents on initiatives, before they’re even made public. This is simply not a standard practice in the adversarial party system we have in Alberta.

Members of the NWT Legislature have advance knowledge of the legislation. However, they at liberty to divulge the actual legislation to their constituents. Never the less this does not preclude them from aggregating constituent’s opinions on the subject matter of the proposed legislation.

In the business world there’s a decided advantage when you identify the needs of your customer and fill those needs. The same can be said for democratic representation; the best way to find out what your constituents want is to ask and then carry those wishes forward and act on them. In that spirit, some Members of the NWT Legislature do not accept Cabinet positions, choosing instead to sit as regular Members. As a regular Member they have the ability to ask tough questions of Cabinet and the various standing committees.

In another political twist, the Northwest Territories Legislature has provisions that allow the Members to directly remove the Premier and/or Cabinet Minister by passing a motion of non-confidence, although this rarely happens. There is a less extreme measure called a motion of censure that can put the Premier or Minister under greater public scrutiny. You could say that without a majority government to hide behind, the representatives become more acutely visible and accountable to taxpayers.

Albertans believe trust must be earned. However in traditional Canadian political systems too often faceless party bureaucrats become the power brokers. Elected representatives become chair-fillers for the power struggle of government. The primacy of grassroots democracy is thrown out like bait, only to have it jerked away when it appears we may actually achieve it.

Over the last few decades Alberta has gone from Canada’s success story to a province falling on hard times due to wasted potential at the hands of a provincial political dynasty. Now that Alberta has tried another party with more less than impressive results, perhaps it’s time to change the way we do politics rather than just which team we elect?

The Northwest Territories system offers the advantage of constructive early engagement of grassroots democrats who demand direct democracy.