Left-right: NWT MLAs Shane Thompson, Julie Green, and Kieron Testart in the Great Hall of the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
A Yellowknife politician is framing Doug Ford’s Ontario election victory as a wake-up call for residents of the Northwest Territories.
Kieron Testart, who has represented the city’s Kam Lake riding since 2015, took to Facebook to reflect on a divisive win for Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in the southern province – what Testart called “a vote for change.”
Testart said the ability of Ontario’s residents to roundly reject their Liberal government, issuing a clear mandate to a rival, is an option consensus government does not provide to voters in the NWT.
“It’s clear that Ontario had become frustrated with 15 years of the same leaders, the same policies and the same priorities,” wrote Testart. “Unpopular austerity budgets and an ever-increasing cost of living crisis (sound familiar NWT?) sealed the fate of Ontario’s Liberal government. It’s a shame that Northerners don’t have the opportunity to do the same when they take to the polls.”
The consensus system means there is no such thing as a political party at territorial level. Voters choose from a range of independent candidates; following the election, the successful candidates club together to determine who the premier and the six ministers will be. The premier then assigns each minister their portfolio.
“NWT elections are about politicians not policies. Voters don’t get to choose their leaders and they don’t get to give them a mandate. They also don’t get to punish unpopular governments for their decisions and hold decision makers accountable for their choices,” Testart continued.
“Even with a historic election result in 2015 [in which only eight of the 19 incumbents returned to the legislature], NWT voters still ended up with the same premier and a very similar cabinet at the end of the day. The vast majority of GNWT priorities remain driven by bureaucratic process and not by promises made to the people who elected MLAs (me included).
“I fear that the consensus system is not built to give those who disagree with government a voice and to serve as an effective platform for MLAs to shape those disagreements into alternative policy options that voters could consider every four years at election time.”
Testart, a longstanding member of the Liberal Party, launched a bid to represent the Liberals in the 2015 federal election but the party ultimately chosen Michael McLeod to be its candidate. McLeod won the election and now represents the NWT in Ottawa.
Recently, moves by Testart and other regular MLAs to change proposed territorial rules on cannabis – by introducing the ability for it to be sold by private retailers – were shot down in the legislature.
In his post, Testart stopped short of endorsing a switch to party politics and insisted he did not consider consensus government ‘broken’ – but said he wanted a government “more responsive to the desires of voters.”
Replying to a comment from Fort Smith town councillor Kevin Smith, Testart suggested a form of “official opposition” in the legislature may be a step forward.
“Many people think consensus is the best system, despite its flaws, out of many worse options out there,” he concluded.
“I’m not so convinced we’ve perfected democracy in the NWT and I’m going to keep talking with people about this issue so we can find a better way to deliver meaningful politics to our citizens.”
Correction June 12 15:40 MT – An earlier version of this article stated 11 of the 19 incumbent MLAs were defeated in the 2015 territorial election. This is not true, as not all of the incumbents stood for re-election. Our wording has been amended accordingly.