North

Zero support from MLAs for motion to introduce party politics in N.W.T.

An amendment to the N.W.T.'s Elections and Plebiscites Act that would allow territorial leaders to register with political parties was defeated in the legislature Monday, with only Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, who proposed the amendment, voting in favour.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart proposed amendment to territory's Elections and Plebiscites Act

Kieron Testart in the Legislative Assembly Monday. Testart introduced an amendment to the N.W.T.'s Elections and Plebiscites Act that would allow for political parties to register in the territory. (N.W.T. Legislative Assembly)

An amendment to the N.W.T.'s Elections and Plebiscites Act that would allow territorial leaders to register with political parties was defeated in the legislature Monday, with only Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, who proposed the amendment, voting in favour.

The amendment was proposed as MLAs debated a separate bill to amend the Elections Act, which proposed a series of changes and was was ultimately sent to the house for third reading Tuesday. Those changes including fixing the election date to the first Tuesday in October and allowing absentee voters to vote electronically.

During debate on his proposal, Testart defended his amendments as offering an alternative for voters in the territory, and not as an attempt to scrap the current model of consensus government.

"The point of these amendments is not to condemn consensus to the dustbin of history," Testart said. "The point of these amendments is to allow our citizens to exercise their constitutional rights in a clear and consistent manner."

Testart suggested that introducing political parties would give N.W.T. voters more choices and grant them a constitutional right to organize into political parties. He also suggested that it would allow candidates without personal wealth or fundraising networks to better access campaign funds, and that the system could allow for identification of more diverse candidates.

'I don't want to be in a system where cooperation is out and control is in'

However, some MLAs expressed concern that allowing for political parties would amplify a lack of representation for the concerns of voters in smaller communities, and diminish cooperation between regular members and cabinet. 

"Consensus is not a perfect system," said Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne. "I will admit it. All of us in this room know that it requires ongoing attention and vigilance to make it work. But in a territory with a diversity in population, I believe it remains the best system to respond to the needs of our society.

"I don't want to be in a system where cooperation is out and control is in. I believe that a partisan system will begin to diminish somewhat the diversity, rather than enhance it."

Health Minister Glen Abernethy, who earlier on Monday was given notice that he will be the subject of a no confidence motion Wednesday, said that he suggested that Testart consider a plebiscite, allowing the voters to decide whether or not the territory needs political parties.

However, in his closing argument, Testart said that if a plebiscite was required for his amendment, it should be required for all amendments to the Elections Act. 

"Members should be concerned at the lack of consultation on all amendments in this bill," he said.

Ultimately, 14 members voted against Testart's amendment, with Justice Minister Louis Sebert abstaining.

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