Former MP rails against NWT’s ‘controlling bureaucrats’

A staff member prepares documents ahead of a sitting of the NWT legislature in May 2018
A staff member prepares documents ahead of a sitting of the NWT legislature. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

A former NWT MP is urging the territory to reform its political system, claiming civil servants are given too much power and politicians not held accountable.

Dennis Bevington, who represented the Northwest Territories in Ottawa from 2006 to 2015 for the New Democrats, made his remarks in a column published by NNSL (paywall).

Bevington attacked NWT Premier Bob McLeod’s decision to seek a second term as the territory’s leader, and said consensus government meant bureaucrats, not politicians, held power.

“Where there is party politics, mandates and directions are set in elections with winners and losers. In our consensus system, the directions for government are set in process after the election, with the controlling hand of the bureaucracy setting the stage,” Bevington wrote.



“No individual MLA, cabinet minister or premier has to sell this direction to their constituents, or bear any responsibility for the outcomes.

“With the past three out of four governments led by career bureaucrats, the power of the ballot box has been steadily eroded.”

He said McLeod had, in 2015, broken an “unwritten convention that the premier would be only serving one term [to ensure] one person should not be overly powerful for long periods of time.”

“So much for that friendly understanding,” Bevington wrote.



‘Much to be said’

Bevington’s comments echo many of those made by Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, who has called for the introduction of party politics to help cure perceived flaws with the NWT’s consensus system, in which MLAs are elected as individuals with no party affiliation.

However, Bevington appeared to stop short of endorsing party politics as the answer.

“After many decades, our system of consensus government needs tuning and redefinition or we will lose it to party politics,” he warned.

Testart is planning what he terms a “shared platform” – with many features of a political party – for this fall’s territorial election, though the NWT’s rules continue to prevent candidates affiliating with an officially registered party at territorial level.

Other MLAs have criticized what they perceive as a lack of public consultation over Testart’s plans.

“We need an independent effort by Northerners to determine our future,” concluded Bevington.

“There is much to be said on this issue. Let’s engage our young people in something that will define their future.”