One of the most consistent messages of the 2015 election campaign was that the legislative assembly would be focused on accountability, transparency and responsible government.
When polls closed, 11 new MLAs all promised new measures to hold government to account, including a midterm review and the creation of a new minister for Public Engagement and Transparency. Northerners know that in politics talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. So after three years in office, what have we done as MLAs to act on the promises we made towards responsible government? Consider then, the three non-confidence motions that failed during the 18th Assembly. This is all too typical of consensus-style government, where ministers
In both examples the ministers’ performance is never the issue. Rather it is immoral or unethical behaviour which has resulted in their removal.
But what happens when a minister fails so seriously at their job that it ends up have serious consequences for Northerners? Are there not performance-related reasons which merit their removal?
MLAs have a duty of to uphold the principles of responsible government, to act when serious matters of performance arise, to hold ministers to account and to ask tough questions.
Our system is supposed to place the responsibility for failings within the GNWT solely on the shoulders of the minister responsible. Not the bureaucracy, not political staffers and most certainly not the auditors who shed light on the problem.
It matters not how much a particular politician is ‘liked,’ the qualities of their moral character, nor does it matter how complex or difficult the problem is. The buck stops with them. Denying the problem exists, omission of key information and gas-lighting those asking tough questions only serves to hurt all residents and this, sadly has become all too common practice.
After the non-confidence motions in October, both ministers weighed in after the votes were cast and their jobs were saved.
Mr. Schumann dismissed concerns raised by MLAs and commented on his remaining time as minister by saying, “I certainly ain’t going to appease the members on the other side of the House.”
While Mr. Abernethy had revealed that he secured the three votes needed to be safe – keep in mind, the premier had already whipped the vote, forcing all cabinet members to vote as one. All was decided before any debate or evidence was delivered – the public at large was told in no uncertain terms by one of these ministers that the whole exercise was a “waste of time.”
This is all too often how our current system operates – these words and actions are telling of how cabinet views accountability, transparency and responsible government. Ministers would have it that they are above criticism and that their performance is unquestionable and this is not what Northerners expect of their elected representatives.
While I admire the conviction of those who defend the ideals of consensus, there is no shared and functional definition of what consensus practically means. I don’t believe that a rejection of accountability is part of any definition of responsible government, nor what the public wants.
The distorted notions of “consensus” have become a shield to hide behind when cornered, a reason not to ask or answer tough question.
Our institutions should not be a place where backroom deals are the rule.