Should we all vote to select the premier?

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We now have an acclaimed Hay River MLA saying he will seek to become the next premier of the Northwest Territories.

And we have another Hay River incumbent saying it’s possible he might also seek the premiership, if he is re-elected.

Good for them.

But they will probably have to line up for the chance to become the next leader now that the race is wide open with Premier Bob McLeod’s decision not to seek re-election on Oct. 1. Not to mention that three other cabinet ministers have also decided to call it a political day.

We can’t even guess who might be premier after the dust has settled next month. But we do believe that the acclaimed R.J. Simpson from Hay River North will have a shot at the top job. Current cabinet minister Wally Schumann would also have a shot, if he is re-elected in Hay River South.

Neither of the other two current cabinet ministers seeking re-election – Caroline Cochrane from Yellowknife and Louis Sebert of Fort Smith – are obvious favourites for premier, if they even want to seek the role.

So the premier’s job will be absolutely up for grabs.

That, of course, leads to a question. Why is the premier’s position – the most important role in the territorial government – chosen by just 19 elected MLAs?
And that leads to another question: Why isn’t there a separate public vote for premier?

It’s almost like the territorial government is a not-for-profit society that elects a board of directors and then that board selects a chairperson, i.e. premier.

Even in municipal elections, people can vote separately for a mayor.

Is our current system an understandable and acceptable way to choose a premier in the NWT’s consensus government?

There are no political parties with separate leaders to even give voters some clue of who may become premier when they cast their ballots.

We’re not crazy about not having a public vote for premier, but we do understand the existing system and we think it is an acceptable way to choose a leader.

Selecting premiers and even prime ministers without a vote by the populace happens on a surprisingly regular basis in parliamentary democracies. It occurred just recently when Boris Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom.

However, the NWT is rare in that the lack of a popular vote for premier is built into the system. It’s not just changing leaders during a term.

The main benefit of the NWT’s existing system is it helps some of the best candidates get elected to the Legislative Assembly by spreading them around the various electoral districts. If there was a separate vote for the premiership, many of them would be running for that position – since politicians are not known for their lack of ambition – but only one would be elected to lead the government.

That would likely deprive the Legislative Assembly of some good MLAs.

Until, or if ever, the NWT adopts party politics, it looks like MLAs will continue to choose the premier.

We’re not thrilled about that, but we can live with it.

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