Proposal on the table
Appointed cabinet a step toward party politics

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 12/00) - The first big decision the newly-elected legislative assembly could make might profoundly change the way the Northwest Territories is governed.

Members have been informally discussing a proposal to have a cabinet appointed by the premier rather than one elected by MLAs. It is a change that would pave the way to party politics in the North.

Yellowknife MLAs-elect Brendan Bell and Bill Braden are spearheading the drive for an appointed cabinet.

"The message was pretty clear when I was going door-to-door during my campaign," said Bell. "Most people thought consensus government wasn't working."

Braden said that though the NDP, the first party to enter candidates in a territorial election, went down to defeat in the December election, party politics is an inevitability and an improvement on the current system.

Party politics would make each vote in an election more meaningful, said Braden, noting "people would be putting their mark beside a philosophy, a team, an alliance (in addition to an individual)."

Bell said he does not see appointing cabinet spurring the move toward party politics. The change would, he said, simply improve consensus government.

In a written statement on the benefits of an appointed cabinet, Bell said the change would provide for more accountable government, since the premier could be called to account for all departmental decisions.

"In the past, when ordinary members have expressed concerns about individual cabinet members, the premier has been able to say, 'Don't talk to me about your concerns. I didn't select this person to be in my government. You did,'" wrote Bell.

The two rookie politicians will not be getting support from the most experienced Yellowknife representative in the new government.

Charles Dent, entering his third consecutive term in the assembly, said going halfway toward party politics this assembly is not going to work.

The Frame Lake MLA-elect asked what would happen if the assembly voted down a significant bill or cabinet motion. In traditional party system, the government would be dissolved and a new election held.

Bell and Braden said solutions could be found to such problems.

"I expect to eventually see party politics in the NWT," said Dent.

"But we're still a small enough jurisdiction that we should be able to talk things out and come to a consensus."

Ironically, Dent supported an appointed cabinet when he was first elected in 1991, for many of the same reasons Bell and Braden are now supporting it.

He said, however, seeing consensus government in operation for the past eight years has made him believe the current system is the best one for the North at this time.