Sunday, October 16, 2011

NWT's Surprising Politics

I've just ranted about the recent provincial election results in PEI, Ontario, and Manitoba.

But not about the results in the Northwest Territories. Why not?

Well, the NWT (and indeed, Nunavut) is a bit of a special case. It doesn't have any political parties! I think this is probably why it hasn't been in the news. You can't spin the election into a contest, with party A vs party B, and winners and losers. Makes for crappy copy, but (I think) better government...

The NWT is divided up into 19 areas (ridings or constituencies), and a single person is elected in each of them. Since there are no parties, the voters vote for a person, who is directly accountable to them. There's no party telling this person what to do, or deciding what his platform is going to be, or what the spending priorities are. It's all up to this one person. Each representative is elected by the same plurality system we use provincially - "first past the post" - so if lots of candidates were to run in a riding, you would get the usual vote-splitting problems that we now have (ie. people could get elected with low % of the popular vote). But in practise this apparently doesn't happen - hardly ever more than 2 candidates run in  a riding - maybe because the population is so small.

The NWT Legislature (those 19 reps) vote amongst themselves to elect the Premier, and 7 reps are similarly elected to form Cabinet. In these votes, the candidates have to obtain 50% or more support from their colleagues. So this sometimes requires more than one ballot (ie. a run-off). The Premier doesn't choose his cabinet, but he can (re)assign their portfolios.

There's no "opposition". Bills are passed by majority (ie. more than 50% support) vote in the Legislature. If the majority doesn't like important bills (like the budget), they can call a vote of non-confidence, and bring on another election. So it's in the interest of the Premier and Cabinet to bring forward bills that are favourable to a majority of MLA's.

So there's no "party platform", and the elected Legislature doesn't have an agenda. What's usually done is that at the beginning of the session, the Cabinet gets together and crafts a "consensus statement", outlining what they would like to do.

Apparently, despite repeated attempts by political parties to run candidates, this has not caught on and the system remains nonpartisan.

Sounds interesting, eh? I'm loving the parallels with New West's local politics! And I'm envisioning a whole new provincial model...anyone with me here?


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