This is page numbers 6289 - 6352 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was assembly.

Topics

Question 844-18(3): Fort McPherson Housing Units
Oral Questions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation

Question 844-18(3): Fort McPherson Housing Units
Oral Questions

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Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know the Member has brought these questions up previously. Especially with the meters that have been installed for the two duplexes in Fort McPherson, I'd like to let the Member know that those meters have been installed and the units are being finalized and will be ready for occupancy September 1st. I'd like to thank the member for being there when we did the opening of the nine-plex in Fort McPherson just recently. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 844-18(3): Fort McPherson Housing Units
Oral Questions

August 21st, 2019

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Frederick Blake Jr. Mackenzie Delta

That's good news. I know the department had to order a bunch of appliances for the elders' home, so I'd just like to ask the Minister: will the Minister ensure that the department has everything they need for our elders to start moving in before we start getting snow and bad weather? Usually in September or October we get a lot of bad weather, so I just want to make sure our elders move in before this time of year.

Question 844-18(3): Fort McPherson Housing Units
Oral Questions

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Alfred Moses Inuvik Boot Lake

As I mentioned with the seniors' complex, we want to make sure that we do our best to ensure that we get our seniors moving into the nine-plex that we just opened up, but at the same time, I mean, one other good-news story is that, if we get our seniors moving out of public housing into the nine-plex, then we open up more units for any of our residents who need to move into public housing. So we are going to try our best, and I will keep the Member updated on how we are moving in terms of getting the appliances into the nine-plex.

Question 844-18(3): Fort McPherson Housing Units
Oral Questions

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. Oral questions. Item 8, written questions. Item 9, returns to written questions. Item 10, replies to the Commissioner's opening address. Item 11, petitions. Item 12, reports of standing and special committees. Member for Hay River North.

Committee Report 35-18(3): "Lessons Learned" Report of the Special Committee on Transition Matters
Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased to provide the "Lessons Learned" Report of the Special Committee on Transition Matters. This report represents the work of the Special Committee on Transition Matters, the second of its kind. The report reflects the committee's shared commitment to make incremental improvements to the unique form of consensus government that exists in the Northwest Territories. Its intention is to offer the best advice and accumulated wisdom of the Members of the 18th Legislative Assembly to those of the 19th.

The terms of reference for this committee were more narrowly defined then those of its predecessor in the 17th Assembly. Most notably, the committee did not have a mandate to make recommendations as to the priorities of the 19th Assembly. Rather, its focus was on improvements to the "machinery of consensus government." This included:

  • The planning and staging of new Member orientation;
  • The process to set and report upon priorities;
  • The size, structure and appointment of Cabinet and standing committees;
  • The business planning and budget development processes; and
  • The conduct of mid-term reviews.

In addition, the committee set its mind to the role of Caucus in consensus government, as well as potential improvements to the process of enacting legislation.

The special committee's recommendations reflect a number of themes that emerged from its work. These include:

  • The need to maintain unity amongst newly elected and returning Members at the commencement of a new Assembly;
  • The desire to set priorities, mandates, and budgets earlier in the term of a new Assembly;
  • The requirement to evolve the processes of consensus government to reflect the increasingly complex policy-making environment in the post-devolution era; and
  • Increasing public expectations for accountability, meaningful communication, and transparency.

Given the volume of legislation before standing committees in the final months of the 18th Legislative Assembly, the committee was, unfortunately, unable to conduct public hearings as part of its work. Consequently, the committee was reluctant to recommend fundamental changes to the way consensus government operates. This was most evident during the committee's discussions of potential new ways to select the Premier and Cabinet. Potential options, such as the election of the Premier at large or alternatives to the 2-2-2 convention of selecting Cabinet, were seen by the committee as too important to make absent widespread public input. Rather, the committee recommends that the 19th Legislative Assembly establish an independent committee to consult on, review, and make recommendations on these matters.

The committee's report includes 37 recommendations. These include an orientation program for Members of the 19th Legislative Assembly that will commence on October 8, 2019, just one week after the general election. Other notable recommendations call for the establishment of a Public Accounts Committee, greater resources for standing committees, revised processes for the adoption of the 19th Legislative Assembly's first and subsequent budgets, and changes to the legislation enactment process. The special committee recommends against the conduct of a mid-term review of Cabinet performance and appointments and, in its place, calls for the greater use of Caucus and so called "firside chats" between the Premier and Regular Members to enhance and maintain relationships and ensure effective accountability.

1.0 Introduction

One of the fundamental hallmarks of a liberal democratic society is the peaceful, coordinated, and timely transition of power from one group of elected leaders to another following a general election. This year, the 18th Legislative Assembly will be dissolved at midnight on August 31 to make way for a general election on October 1, 2019. Following the return of the writs of election for the Territory's 19 electoral districts, the Members-elect of the 19th Legislative Assembly will convene in Yellowknife to begin the formal transition of power from one Assembly to another.

The transition of power following a general election is unique in the consensus style of government practiced in the NWT. For starters, due to the absence of registered political parties, it is not immediately clear who will form the Executive branch of government, namely the Premier and members of the Executive Council (Cabinet), after polling day. Both the means of selecting Cabinet as well as its size and composition are matters left to each incoming Assembly to decide. The same can be said for the structure and membership of the various standing committees of the Assembly, as well as the Legislative Assembly Board of Management.

Previous transition processes have assumed a one-third attrition rate following a general election. In other words, the assumption has been that 12 or 13 of the Assembly's 19 Members would be re-elected. Prior to the 2015 general election, this assumption largely reflected reality. The result has been a high degree of consistency from one Assembly to the next in terms of priorities and the so-called "machinery of government." The 2015 general election witnessed the unprecedented turnover of nearly 60 percent as a result of the election of 11 new members. This turnover resulted in the introduction of a number of important new processes, a focus on transparency and accountability, and a realignment of committee mandates. Interestingly, it also resulted in the election of the NWT's first two-term Premier.

This report reflects the collective work of the 18th Legislative Assembly's Special Committee on Transition Matters, the second of its kind. As with its predecessor from the 17th Assembly, this report makes recommendations that are intended to guide, but not bind or restrict, the decisions of the 19th Legislative Assembly with respect to its priorities, structure, and modus operandi. Unlike its predecessor, this special committee did not have a mandate to make recommendations as to the key issues for the incoming Assembly. Rather, its terms of reference (Attachment 1) are focused on the following items:

  • The timing and staging of new-Member orientation;
  • The process for setting and reporting on priorities;
  • The size, structure, and appointment of Cabinet and standing committees;
  • The business plan and budget development processes; and
  • The conduct of mid-term reviews of both the Assembly's priorities and the performance of Ministers, both individually and collectively.

The members of the special committee are mindful of the limited attention that was paid to the recommendations of their predecessor committee at the commencement of the current Assembly. One of the fundamental tenets of our system of government is that an outgoing Assembly can and should not fetter the discretion of an incoming one. The title of this report, "Lessons Learned," is intended to frame the committee's recommendations and discussions as well-intentioned advice to the 19th Assembly, rather than an attempt to reach into and unduly influence its decisions. We will view our work as successful if it causes the elected Members of the 19th Legislative Assembly to reflect upon potential improvements to the operation of consensus government and keep an open mind to new ways of doing business.

The 18th Legislative Assembly encountered its fair share of bumps along the road. Consensus government is far from a perfect adaptation of either the Indigenous or Westminster traditions that form its core. Like all systems of government, it has notable weaknesses. At some future point, the people of the Northwest Territories may choose a radically different approach to how they are governed. Changes of this magnitude are beyond the scope of this committee and, if pursued, must involve broad-based public consultation and participation. As such, the recommendations and observations included in this report present what we feel are incremental but substantive improvements to the current system. We hope that the Members of the 19th Legislative Assembly will find wisdom in the collective experience of its authors and use our advice as a stepping stone to making the 19th Legislative Assembly their own. We wish them every success.

2.0 Orientation

Committee Members reflected upon their experience during orientation in 2015. The eleven newly elected Members held several days of orientation following the election in isolation from their eight returning colleagues. The purpose for these separate sessions was to focus on the information that newly elected Members need and that would be redundant for returning Members. It was also felt that newly elected Members might be less intimidated and more inclined to ask questions if not in the presence of more experienced Members.

2.1 Group Cohesiveness

It was noted that these separate sessions had the effect of creating two distinct groups at the commencement of orientation; the 11 newly elected Members, and the eight returning ones. When the time came to bring the entire group together, this early separation resulted in some tension between the new and returning Members that did not dissipate until Cabinet was selected. As one committee member noted, "We shouldn't keep our most experienced players on the bench at the start of an Assembly." Committee agreed that all Members should start working together as a team from the start. It was suggested that each newly elected Member be teamed up with a returning Member to help build stronger and more lasting relationships.

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Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

1. That all 19 elected Members of the 19th Assembly work together as a group throughout the orientation and priority setting process.

2.2 Staff Roles and Responsibilities

Committee discussed the importance of getting a good sense of who the various Legislative Assembly staff are, their roles and the services they can provide to Members. Particular mention was made of the services available from the law clerk and the legislative library. It was suggested that all staff be invited to introduce themselves to MLAs early in the orientation program.

Committee Report 35-18(3): "Lessons Learned" Report of the Special Committee on Transition Matters
Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

2. That the orientation program for Members include more detail about the services available to Members including, but not limited to, the services of the law clerks and legislative library.

2.3 Ongoing Training Opportunities

Committee members expressed an appreciation for the need to strike a balance between providing newly elected MLAs with too much or too little information. Members agreed that there was some urgency to "hit the ground running," but also identified a need for ongoing training after the initial orientation program was complete. The following areas were identified as potential subjects for ongoing training and professional development:

  • Records Management
  • Media Relations
  • Information technology
  • Parliamentary procedure
  • Research
  • Legislative drafting and interpretation

Committee Report 35-18(3): "Lessons Learned" Report of the Special Committee on Transition Matters
Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

3. That more in-depth and ongoing training opportunities be provided to Members following orientation, priority setting, and cabinet selection.

2.4 Financial Overview

The committee debated the merits of providing Members with an overview of the government's financial situation early in the orientation program. Some Members were of the view that such an overview had the tendency to throw cold water on the ideas for new initiatives that candidates heard during the election campaign. Others felt that it was not possible to set realistic priorities without an understanding of the government's financial situation. In the end, committee agreed that an early session on both the government's fiscal operations and status would be of value.

Committee Report 35-18(3): "Lessons Learned" Report of the Special Committee on Transition Matters
Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

4. That a half-day session on the GNWT's financial policies and status be scheduled early in the orientation program.

2.5 Advanced Circulation of Orientation Materials

Committee discussed the merits of preparing an "Issues Wiki" that allows Members to drill down as deeply as they like to understand specific issues. It was noted that the Wiki prepared for the 18th Legislative Assembly was not user-friendly and that much of the information was available on departmental websites. Regardless of what format is used to brief newly elected Members, it was agreed that materials need to be distributed to Members well in advance of their first day of orientation.

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Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

5. That orientation and issue briefing materials be provided to Members-elect within a day or two following the election, preferably in electronic format, to allow them an opportunity for advanced preparation.

2.6 Orientation Program

Committee made considerable adjustments to the orientation program that was used at the commencement of the 18th Legislative Assembly. In addition to keeping all Members together for the duration of orientation, the revised program envisions having Members make a public statement of their individual priorities on the second day of orientation and includes a number of breaks to allow Members to return to their home communities or begin to look for constituency assistants and accommodation in Yellowknife. Additional changes to the orientation program will be highlighted in subsequent sections of this report.

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Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendation

6. That the Orientation Program for the 19th Legislative Assembly, included as Attachment 2 of this report, be adopted.

3.0 Priority Setting

Committee spent considerable time reflecting upon the priority setting and mandate development processes employed at the beginning of the 18th Legislative Assembly. It was noted that there is a significant level of consistency between the priorities adopted by the last four Assemblies. Many of these priorities are aspirational and attempt to cover all areas of responsibility of the GNWT. Ideally, each priority should focus on what, specifically, the Assembly hopes to achieve during its term and beyond. The "How," "How Much," and "How are we doing?" questions will be answered in subsequent processes such as the mandate, business plans, budgets, and progress reports.

A significant concern related to the amount of time it took to get a mandate in place and the number of mandate commitments that flowed from it. The focus of the 18th Assembly turned quickly from the collective priorities established by Caucus to the more than 200 mandate commitments, many of which were worded in a way that made them challenging to measure.

3.1 Process Convention on Priority Setting and Reporting

Committee reviewed the Process Convention on Priority Setting and Reporting in detail. It was agreed that future Legislative Assemblies should attempt to limit the number and scope of their priorities in an effort to reflect real choices. These priorities should be agreed to by Caucus and form the basis for Cabinet's mandate document. The priorities should reflect what Members heard during the election campaign, key issues that arise during orientation and the input of northern Indigenous and community leaders.

Once the Caucus priorities have been established, Cabinet should proceed to draft specific mandate commitments to fulfill the Caucus priorities. Again, these should be specific, outcome-based and measurable. Although the Mandate will be a Cabinet document, the importance of consulting with Regular Members was stressed. To this end, it was agreed that Cabinet should consult with the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning on the mandate document, rather than have these discussion take place in Caucus. A number of meetings with the committee may be required prior to Cabinet tabling the document in the House. Once tabled, the mandate will be referred to Committee of the Whole for debate. Similar to other tabled documents, however, the Mandate will not be subject to amendment or adoption by the Assembly.

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Reports Of Standing And Special Committees

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Recommendations

7. That the attached revised Process Convention of Priority Setting and Reporting, included as Attachment 3, be adopted by Caucus.

8. That the proposed Priority Setting flow chart and schedule, included as Attachment 3, be adopted by the 19th Legislative Assembly.

3.2 Consultation on Priorities

Committee discussed the importance of consulting with elected Indigenous government and community leaders in the development of priorities. While the Intergovernmental Council plays an important role in the drafting of revised legislation and other matters in follow up to the 2014 Devolution Agreement, its relationship is primarily with Cabinet and not the Legislative Assembly as a whole. As such, all regional Indigenous governments and organizations, as well as the NWT Association of Communities, should be included in consultations on the Assembly's priorities. As part of the Orientation Program adopted earlier, this consultation with northern leaders has been scheduled for October 17, 2019. Committee recommended that participants be invited to attend these meeting well in advance to allow them to plan to attend.

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Recommendation

9. That elected Indigenous and community government leaders be invited to a round table discussion on the establishment of the priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly on October 17, 2019, and that invitations to attend this meeting be sent to invitees at least a month in advance.

3.3 Mid-term Review of Priorities

The 18th Legislative Assembly conducted a mid-term review of both its priorities and the performance of individual members of Cabinet and Cabinet as a whole. This section deals with the former. The next section of this report will address the latter.

The 18th Legislative Assembly conducted a mid-term review of its priorities and the various mandate commitments. This review took place during the prorogation of the 2nd Session and the resulting changes were reflected in the Commissioner's Opening Address at the commencement of the 3rd and final Session. Committee was of the view that a review of the 19th Legislative Assembly's priorities should be conducted at mid-term. Such a review allows an Assembly to take stock of its accomplishments in a focused manner half way into its term and adjust its high level priorities to reflect macro-level changes that have arisen since the election.

Recommendation

10. That the 19th Legislative Assembly prorogue following the Spring 2021 session to review its priorities in advance of a Commissioner's Opening Address to commence the 3rd and final Session in the fall of 2021.

3.4 Accountability

Given that Cabinet's mandate will not be formally adopted by the Legislative Assembly, some committee members raised concerns over the ability of the Assembly to hold cabinet to account for the implementation of its mandate. It was noted that, in many partisan legislatures, the debate on the Speech from the Throne is considered a matter of confidence in the government. If an amendment to the Speech from the Throne is adopted by the House, it constitutes an expression of loss of confidence in the government and will trigger an election.

The concept of confidence is virtually non-existent in consensus government. Individual Cabinet Members continue to hold confidence until a motion withdrawing that confidence is formally adopted. It is uncertain whether the defeat of Cabinet's budget would constitute a loss of confidence, as it has never been tested. Given the 18th Legislative Assembly's experience with the conduct of a mid-term review of Cabinet performance, both collectively and individually, it was agreed that the 19th Legislative Assembly consider and adopt a Consensus Government Process Convention on Expressions of Non-confidence in Cabinet. This convention would clarify what constitutes an expression of non-confidence as well as the consequences of such an expression. It could also provide a mechanism for the Legislative Assembly to defeat the Commissioner's Address if a majority of Members do not feel it lives up to the priorities established by Caucus.

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Recommendation

11. That a Process Convention on the Expression of Non-confidence be developed and presented to the Caucus of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

4.0 Structure and Selection of Cabinet and Standing Committees

4.1 Cabinet Selection

The selection and structure of Cabinet is decided by each Assembly at the commencement of its term. There is nothing in legislation that determines the size and composition of Cabinet or the process used to recommend the appointment of the Premier and individual Ministers. Since division of the Northwest Territories in 1999, the size and structure of Cabinet has remained consistent. The Territorial Leadership Committee, consisting of all 19 members, meets in public following orientation and the setting of priorities. The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly calls the committee to order and opens the floor to nominations for Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. If only one nomination is received, the Clerk invites the Speaker-elect to assume the chair. If more than one nomination is received, a series of exhaustive secret ballots are held until one candidate attains a majority of votes. At each successive ballot, the name of the nominee with the fewest votes is removed from the ballot for the next round of voting.

Once a Speaker-elect is chosen, s/he opens the floor to nominations for Premier. During the 18th Legislative Assembly, the committee was adjourned for approximately a week following the close of nominations to allow Members to consult with their constituents as to a preferred candidate. When the committee reconvened, each Member is entitled to ask up to three questions of each candidate. When questions and answers are complete, a series of exhaustive secret ballot votes is held until one nominee emerges with a majority of votes and is declared Premier-elect.

Since Division, the Cabinet has consisted of six Members, each representing a distinct geographical region of the Territory; two from those constituencies north of Great Slave Lake, two from those south of Great Slave Lake, and two from Yellowknife. This system has come to be known as the 2-2-2 structure. Nominations are accepted for each of the three distinct regions. Each nominee is then called upon to deliver a 10-minute speech. No questions and answer period exists for the selection of Cabinet members. Once speeches are concluded, a series of exhaustive secret ballots are held for each of the three regions until two nominees from each attain a majority of support. Overall results are not announced until majorities have been attained in each region. The specific results of each vote are not released.

The first sitting of the Legislative Assembly is normally convened on the day following the Territorial Leadership Committee. On this day, the Speaker, Premier, and Cabinet Members-elect are formally appointed by motion of the House and are sworn in by the Commissioner at the rise of the House the same day.

Committee considered a discussion paper, included as Attachment 4 to this report, laying out the advantages and disadvantages of the above-described process and offering a number of alternative options. The advantages of the existing system include:

  • it ensures regional diversity on Cabinet and prevents the domination of one region over another Cabinet;
  • it has traditionally provided for an acceptable level of diversity on Cabinet in terms of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Members as well as those representing urban and rural constituencies; and
  • is well established and understood by both Members and the public.

The disadvantages include:

  • the encouragement of strategic voting for Premier whereby Members from one region who hope to be elected to Cabinet are incentivized to vote for a nominee for Premier from their region to increase their own chances of being elected to Cabinet;
  • the region represented by the Premier is automatically overrepresented on Cabinet;
  • the Yellowknife region is underrepresented on Cabinet in terms of its percentage of the population of the NWT; and
  • there is no guarantee for small-community representation on Cabinet. The Cabinet of the 18th Legislative Assembly was the first since division to have no Members who represent constituencies made up of small and remote communities.

The discussion paper presented a number of options, including a 2-2-2-1 whereby six Members of Cabinet are selected first according the regional system described above or one based upon community size (i.e. Yellowknife, the regional centres of Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Smith and the remaining small community constituencies). The seventh member is selected last and at large and is used to make up for a deficiency of representation flowing from the 2-2-2 selection process such as the absence of women or small-community members. Once the seven Member Cabinet is selected, nominations for Premier are accepted. Only those Members already elected to Cabinet are eligible to be nominated for Premier. This system eliminates some of the disadvantages of the current system but creates the perception that the seventh seat is a "consolation" seat for those who were not elected through the 2-2-2 process.

While each committee member expressed dissatisfaction with the traditional 2-2-2 approach to the selection and structure of Cabinet, committee was unable to recommend a single preferred option. One Member suggested that the size of Cabinet be reduced to a Premier and five Cabinet members to further counterbalance Cabinet's voting power in the House. The suggestion of having the Premier elected at large by the voters of the NWT was considered too great a change to recommend without broader public consultation. The committee expressed regret that it was not able to conduct public hearings on its mandate due to the extraordinary amount of legislation before standing committees in the run-up to dissolution of the 18th Assembly. It was suggested that, in the future, similar committees be struck earlier in an Assembly's term to allow for broad public consultation. If fundamental changes to the size, structure, and selection of the Premier and Cabinet are under consideration, it was suggested that an independent, arms-length committee be struck to explore options, conduct public consultations, and make recommendations to an Assembly early enough in its term to bring them into force for an upcoming Assembly. This work should be coordinated with the Electoral Boundaries Commission that must be struck during the 19th Assembly.