A realization came over me as I was writing my story on cabinet answering questions at the NWT Association of Communities AGM, when I began to type out the titles of each of our cabinet ministers and almost filled an entire page.
The NWT, probably unlike most jurisdictions in the world, is desperately short of elected officials.
Not from a representation standpoint, of course. Split up among the total population, each MLA in Yellowknife is representative of just under 2,400 people. In comparison, each MLA in my birth-province of Alberta is representative of over 50,000.
But I’m referring more to their individual portfolios — I really can’t see how we’re not setting our territorial government up for failure with the current arrangement.
Being appointed to a portfolio is akin to being thrust into the pilot’s chair of a plane, mid-flight, and having to learn how to fly the plane while not crashing it at the same time. Usually by the time you’ve learned how the department works and why it works the way it does, there’s not enough time left to fix anything before the next election.
Take Inuvik-Boot Lake MLA Diane Thom for example. She’s been entrusted with fixing the problems of a highly spread out and likely underfunded Health Care system. She’s equally responsible for fixing problems in Social Services as well as anything involving persons with disabilities. Oh, and she’s also the deputy premier.
Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson is not only overseeing a public power utility that has the highest electricity rates in the country, he is also responsible for stopping the free-fall in caribou numbers — something which may be completely out of human control — and any other major wildlife concerns. He’s also got to be on top of land claims and anything related to the territory’s youth and seniors — those are two entirely separate ministries.
However, the person I really feel for is Sahtu MLA Paulie Chinna. Not only is she responsible for keeping all the municipalities functioning, she’s also the one who is expected to improve lives for homeless people and to fix the numerous problems with the NWT Housing Corporation.
I can’t remember when I had six jobs at the same time and managed to do any of them effectively. Can you?
All these portfolio problems are expected to be in the process of being solved by the next election in 2022, but each and every one of them is a monumental challenge that would take a seasoned public servant at least that long to deal with.
To go back to my airplane metaphor, members of our cabinet are not just expected to learn how to fly one plane mid-flight; they literally have to fly the entire fleet, of completely different makes and models, all at once.
Politics is not an easy vocation, there’s no learning curve, very long hours and everyone usually ends up hating you regardless of whether you did a good job or not.
But the way the system is set up, if this cabinet can pull off a tenth of what they’re proposing to do, they’ve earned their pay.