Consensus Government

Table of Contents

The Northwest Territories is one of only two Canadian territories with a consensus-based government rather than a party-based one. All Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected as independents in our system. All Members of the Assembly convene as a Caucus shortly after the election to set goals for that Assembly. Throughout their time, the Caucus serves as a platform for all members to meet on an equal footing.

Regular Members are those who are not part of the Cabinet. They take on the role of “informal opposition.” They are responsible for holding the administration accountable and responsive to the people of the Northwest Territories through questioning in the House and the work of standing committees.

There is far more communication between Regular Members and Cabinet than there is under the party system. Before coming to the House, all legislation, key programs, and proposed budgets must pass via the Regular Members’ standing committees. Unlike previous systems, this allows Members to make adjustments and put their “fingerprints” on initiatives before they are made public. Regular Members pay the price for their influence: they often receive advance notification of announcements and issues before the general public but cannot inform their constituents.

Because only seven Cabinet Ministers are chosen, the 11 Regular Members also hold the balance of power. A Cabinet that defies the majority’s preferred course is certain to fail. Even so, a consensus government does not necessitate complete agreement to make decisions, move motions, or pass legislation, and a simple majority carries the vote.

Speakers, premiers, and Ministers are all elected.
Members hold a territorial leadership meeting at the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife after being elected. The Speaker is elected by secret ballot as the first item of business. This highlights the Speaker’s prominence, as he or she presides over the entire Assembly and enforces the regulations.

The next step is to choose a Premier. Members conduct several behind-the-scenes discussions as candidates gauge support in the run-up to the election, which has been public since the 12th Assembly. Nominations are made, and candidates have 20 minutes to present their platforms. The floor is then available to each Member for a limited number of questions, followed by a secret ballot vote. Occasionally, it takes multiple ballots before a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

Following that, six more Cabinet ministers will be elected. Candidates are nominated, and their platforms are publicized before a secret ballot vote. The Premier assigns them to one or more departments after meeting with their team of ministers.

Some Members refuse to accept Cabinet nominations because they want to be able to grill ministers in the House and front of standing committees. As Regular Members, they believe they can better represent their citizens.

The Premier and/or Cabinet ministers can be dismissed from office if a resolution of no confidence is passed in the House. Censure motions are a less drastic move that can put the Premier or a minister under much public pressure.