There are a bunch of different ways to govern a place. In Canada, most jurisdictions have political parties representing voter interests. In this territory we’ve gone with consensus government.
Every now and then, it seems like the territory has chosen the right approach. Consensus government favours a decision-making structure where minority opinions carry more weight.
However, consensus governance also risks pitting regions against each other without the discipline of party politics trying to put together broad coalitions of interests.
Take for example, the hike to land title transfer fees that was discussed in the legislative assembly Monday.
The fee is paid by buyers when purchasing land. Right now, you pay $1.50 for each $1,000 so long as the property is worth less than $1 million.
The increase will see the fee go up to $2 per $1,000.
That means a $500,000 home would cost a buyer an extra $350.
While it is true this is a paltry sum for someone making what is likely to be the biggest investment of their lives, it is apparent the people of Yellowknife will be paying the lion’s share of the proposed tax.
In the legislative assembly on Monday, Justice Minister Louis Sebert acknowledged that Yellowknifers would bear the brunt of the new costs as the majority of land title transfers take place in the city.
We understand the GNWT needs to make money through taxes and we fully realize that most of the territory’s real estate deals go down in Yellowknife but if property purchasers in the capital are required to do most of the heavy lifting, they deserve appropriate representation.
“No taxation without representation,” was the rallying cry of the American colonists of the Thirteen Colonies when they declared war on the British back in the 1775.
It might seem an odd rallying cry for Yellowknifers to adopt. Certainly they won’t be picking up swords and muskets any time soon but MLAs outside the city have routinely kiboshed attempts at electoral parity in the capital while depending on it to shore up territorial finances.
The legislative assembly had to be dragged into court in 1990s where it was forced to raise the number of seats in Yellowknife from five to seven, bringing the total number of seats in the territory to 19 after division with Nunavut in 1999.
The new number of seats still didn’t reflect Yellowknife’s population share in the territory, which is just under half, yet MLAs nonetheless rejected a proposal to add more seats in 2014.
This is not a fair state of affairs.
The solution is electoral reform. The territory needs to increase the number of Yellowknife-based MLAs to ensure the city gets fair representation in the legislative assembly because right now, city voters don’t feel they have much effect on how the territory is governed. How can they when there are districts outside the city where the weight of one’s ballot in some cases is more than two times greater than a vote cast in Yellowknife?
All districts in Yellowknife have more than 2,500 people in them. There are at least eight outside of Yellowknife that have fewer than 2,000 people.
Is it any wonder that Yellowknife districts routinely show voter turnout numbers of less than 40 per cent? Last election, there were three Yellowknife districts under 30 per cent: Frame Lake (28 per cent), Great Slave (27 per cent) and Kam Lake (25 per cent).
This reflects very poorly on democracy in the territory. It shows that voters in Yellowknife think their vote doesn’t matter.
MLAs ought to try and change that trend. Otherwise, raising taxes on the backs of Yellowknifers without equal representation will only highlight the inherent reality that consensus government does not necessarily translate into fair government.