Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart will launch a “shared platform” for the 2019 territorial election, with the aim of a candidate in every riding representing a common set of policies under one name.
However, Testart denied the concept amounts to a political party.
Such parties currently cannot be registered in the Northwest Territories. Instead, political hopefuls in each territorial election run under their own name and serve as independent members of a consensus government, devoid of political allegiance.
Testart tried to amend legislation to formally introduce the concept of NWT political parties in October, but those amendments were soundly defeated by other MLAs – with his the only vote in favour.
He believes political parties, or his new “shared platform,” offer greater accountability to residents as parties can – in his view – be more readily removed from office than consensus government politicians if they underperform.
Other regular MLAs contacted by Cabin Radio appeared unmoved by the scheme.
“I’ve approached people, or people have approached me, who are interested,” said Testart, when asked who would form part of his new platform.
“We’ve all been having the same conversation, which is how do we make our democracy stronger and build a responsible government?
“We’re developing a platform that has some of these ideas and there are folks that want to support that idea. It’s a shared platform, it’s a common platform.”
Hear from Kieron Testart in full in this episode of Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News.
Asked if he was tiptoeing around the phrase “political party,” Testart responded: “How do you have a political party in a jurisdiction that doesn’t allow them to exist?
“I wouldn’t go that far. I have been very consistent on who I am as a politician, what I believe in, and what positions I’m going to take.
“Ideally, there will be a candidate in every riding who would like to work together in a shared, northern vision.”
‘Not about me’
Testart says his shared platform will have a name, though that has yet to be decided.
“I don’t want it to be about me,” he said. “I want it to be about the people who have approached me over the past four years and want changes in procurement, in Indigenous relations, in our federal relations, you know? And to find a way to package all that in an effective policy book, and all work from the same playbook.
“We don’t have to build organized politics based on the most extreme, partisan examples. It’s not like, if we bring in party politics, then tomorrow we’ll be Republicans, Democrats, and Donald Trump.
“One of the fundamental concerns people have is that MLAs will lose their voice for their riding, and I don’t want that to happen. I think you only lose your voice if you are more focused on your party, and the capital, than you are back home.”
That being said, Testart acknowledged people using his platform would, on occasion, be compelled to vote as a block on “major issues.”
He gave as an example votes of confidence, such as the October votes on the ministerial futures of Glen Abernethy and Wally Schumann. Both ministers survived those votes.
“Free votes would be the rule. Whipped votes [those in which members are ordered to vote a certain way] would be the exception to the rule and those would be around major issues like confidence, like budgets, those kinds of thing,” said Testart.
“That would be the difference. You would have to have some cohesion, otherwise why be a party?” He added, appearing to use the word ‘party’ as shorthand for the platform.
“But if voters vote for you to do something, and that’s what a platform is, then there is an expectation you work to deliver that. You need to have the organizational strength to get there.”
The new iServeU?
Four regular MLAs responded to questions from Cabin Radio about Testart’s plan for the 2019 election, which is due to be held next fall.
“It sounds like party politics under another name,” said Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, who subsequently drew a comparison with iServeU – the Yellowknife democracy project which operated a slate of candidates in the 2015 municipal election, only one of whom was duly elected.
“That didn’t work out,” Green continued. “I think there are benefits to being an independent in the current consensus system.”
Shane Thompson, the MLA for Nahendeh, said: “I have not spoken to Kieron or any other MLAs about this idea.
“It has not been an issue that I have focused on. We have a number of challenges and things in the fire that we are trying to work on for the betterment of the residents of the Nahendeh.”
RJ Simpson, the MLA for Hay River North, told Cabin Radio: “I’ve told Kieron that I look forward to debating whoever he finds to run against me in the next election.
“Kieron and I share many of the same frustrations with our system of governance, especially regarding our ability to hold government accountable, but, in my opinion, party politics is not the answer.
“His scheme would generate plenty of interest in territorial politics, so in that sense it would be a good thing, but overall I believe that the divisiveness and partisanship inherent to party politics would only serve to divide our residents and those who are ultimately elected.”
‘Cooperation out, control in’
Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said: “I am not opposed to Kieron’s efforts to initiate party politics, and that’s what this is. He has said in the past that the goal of his proposal is to enhance the democratic rights of our residents. However, I don’t believe that a party system is the right answer for the NWT.
“Consensus is not a perfect system, it requires ongoing attention and vigilance to make it work, but in a territory with a diversity in population, I believe it remains the best system to respond to the needs of our society.
“I don’t want to be in a system where cooperation is out and control is in. I believe that a partisan system will begin to diminish our diversity, rather than enhance it. I believe that unique voices will be discouraged or even silenced in certain ways under a party system.
“I will not be joining any organized party or platform in the next election.”
Testart insisted his vision for the shared platform need not necessarily mean the kind of partisan environment described by Vanthuyne.
“I don’t think the party should be one that insists upon its vision and doesn’t work collaboratively,” he said.
“We’re seeing a backsliding of liberal democracy in western civilization, and a heavy-handed, hyper-partisan vehicle in the NWT is not going to fly.
“Consensus certainly isn’t without its flaws so why not create more options, see if it works, and see if it’s better?”