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What do Caroline Cochrane, Frieda Martselos, R.J. Simpson and Jackson Lafferty have in common?

Yes, they’re all MLAs but they also vied to become the NWT’s premier last October.

Perhaps you have a strong opinion as to which one of them would be the strongest government leader. That’s where your privilege stops though. Your opinion cannot translate into a vote for premier.

That’s because that privilege lies with the MLAs. They get to cast secret ballots to choose the NWT’s premier. There’s an unseemly aura about that process.

The NWT’s chief electoral officer believes it warrants examination. Nicole Latour, appointed to the job in November 2014, made such a recommendation on page 73 of her report on the 2019 general election. Latour cites “electors’ concerns around accountability in the consensus-style government” as a reason for revisiting how the premier is chosen.

She points out that many people across the territory have made known their preference to have an independent election for the premier, much like the process for mayor and council in NWT communities.

This wouldn’t be accomplished with a simple stroke of a pen, Latour acknowledged. It would likely be the work of commission focused on electoral reform. Maybe that idea scared off five of our MLAs? Because they remained silent on this issue while their Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures reviewed Latour’s report on June 10.

Not one of those MLAs devoted a single word to the merit of analyzing the selection of the premier.

Former Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart was brimming with vim and vigour at the thought of electoral reform. Noting that non-confidence motions failed time and time again, he proposed an overhaul of how government functions, with a move toward party politics. It should be noted, whether for this reason or others, Testart lost his Kam Lake seat to Caitlin Cleveland in last year’s election.

Perhaps that’s another reason why MLAs stayed mum on electing a premier when the Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures met earlier this month – maybe they don’t want to make waves. Or maybe they have quietly decided that the authority to choose the top job in the territory should remain theirs alone.

But the debate should be had. All MLAs ought to take this question back to their constituents and determine whether there’s a will to change the system.

It’s possible that a separate election for premier might increase voter turnout.

We can strive for better than the 54 per cent of eligible voters who showed up at the polls in the 2019 territorial election.

It’s worth noting, however, that an elected premier would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove through a non-confidence vote because he or she would have been installed by the general public. That’s just one point to ponder, however.

There won’t be a flawless way to structure the choosing of our premier, but any method that involves the democratic input of voters is going to be superior to the backroom negotiating that has taken place for far too long.

Give the people their say. 

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  1. It’s likely that the Rules & Procedures committee will address this topic in their report on their review of the Chief Elector Officer’s recommendations. Guess we’ll see.