N.W.T. MLAs add 1-week waiting period to premier selection process
'It's all about bringing this process out from behind closed doors,' says rookie MLA
The MLAs who will be sworn in today have already made their first departure from the status quo.
During a meeting Monday that was closed to the public, as it has always been, they set a one-week waiting period between the time candidates for premier are nominated, and the time the MLAs vote in the candidate who will lead the territory for the next four years.
Nominations for premier will take place Wednesday afternoon; the cabinet selection process is scheduled for Dec. 16.
As Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green explained: "They will make a public statement in the legislative assembly about why they're running and get their names out there, so that will give our constituents a little more than a week to get back to us with their impressions on the candidates."
In the past the nominations, speeches and vote took a matter of hours. It was done in public but, by the accounts of MLAs who have served in the past, all the real negotiations went on beforehand. The public nomination, the speeches, and the vote were just an official stamp on what had already been decided unofficially.
"It's all about bringing this process out from behind closed doors," said Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, "allowing people to weigh in on how this decision is made and to give people a chance to see the different visions each of the candidates for premier are going to be presenting."
No discussion before closing the door
Strangely, the thought of allowing the public hear the discussion about how the cabinet and premier will be selected never cropped up at the meeting. According to the MLAs who were there, no one asked why the debate was being held behind closed doors.
Most MLAs went to their offices and took the route down to the lounge that's out of public view. Yellowknife South's Cory Vanthuyne and Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly took the stairs that lead down to the great hall.
Asked why the meeting was closed to the public, Vanthuyne said other matters were discussed. He would not say what other matters, but did add that he hoped to get the legislature up to the level of transparency that the city of Yellowknife is on, where a councillor has to declare that it's in the public interest to close a meeting to the public.
Vanthuyne said a press release would be issued later explaining what MLAs had decided. He did not want to pre-empt it. O'Reilly repeated the same explanation: a press release would be issued later.
Open vote ruled out
Some outside the legislature have trouble understanding why such an important discussion would be closed to the public.
Monday's meeting did include discussion of having an open vote for premier and cabinet, so MLAs would have to be accountable to their constituents for one of the biggest decisions of the next four years. But, according to those who were there, there was no support for it.
Irlbacher-Fox says she suspects that an open vote would result in different choices for cabinet and premier. It's a rational suspicion. If there is any horse-trading going on in the back halls, you can bet that cabinet ministers who have served together for four years in the last government — Bob McLeod, Glen Abernethy, Tom Beaulieu, Jackson Lafferty and Robert C. McLeod — will be trading with one another.
Afternoon meetings, also closed to the public, wrapped up at 5 p.m.. The clerk was hosting a dinner for MLAs, on behalf of the public, at the museum at 6 p.m.. Spouses of MLAs were invited.
Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake said he was in too much of a hurry to get to dinner to be interviewed about the selection process for premier and cabinet. Re-elected cabinet minister Glen Abernethy was also too busy to be interviewed. He said he had to pick up his wife.
MLAs kick today off with another free meal, this time a breakfast meet and greet with the media at the legislature.
- An earlier headline for this story said that MLAs had added a one-week waiting period to the cabinet selection process. In fact, the waiting period applies to the premier selection process only.Dec 08, 2015 12:23 PM CT