News April 23, 2009

MLAs Agree to Common Principles of Consensus Government

(Yellowknife, NT) April 23, 2009 – Members of the 16th Legislative Assembly have concluded a three-day Caucus retreat by agreeing to a set of ten principles that define what it means to govern in a consensus-based system. The principles define the ways that consensus government differs from party politics and set a standard of conduct for individual MLAs and the various ways they interact with one another inside and out of the Legislative Assembly. 

“Consensus government means many different things to different people,” said Caucus Chair and Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro. “After three days of intensive discussion, all Members in attendance have come together to articulate a common vision of what it means to govern in this unique system. I am very encouraged by the tone coming out of these meetings and by the sincere commitment of all Members to let these principles guide us in the important work ahead of us.” 

“I have worked in consensus government for almost 14 years and this is the first time I have seen Members clearly define what it means and how it’s different from party politics,” said NWT Premier and Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Floyd Roland. “I think these principles will not only guide the way we work together for the remainder of this legislature, but also for many legislatures to come.” 

In addition to agreement on the ten principles of consensus government, Members reviewed progress on the Vision, Goals and Objectives of the 16th Legislative Assembly, discussed options for targeted use of federal economic stimulus funding, and examined the impact that the global economic downturn is having on the NWT economy and future government activities. Members have agreed to meet again in the full Caucus on May 30, 2009 to further examine the economic situation and other social and economic indicators as a preliminary step in setting broad direction for the 2010-2011 budget. 

“The first 18 months of this Assembly have been productive but challenging,” said MLA Bisaro. “Every Member is coming away with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to focus all of our energies on the important issues facing the NWT in these unprecedented times. The ten principles will be the yardstick we use to hold one another to the commitments we have made to today.” 

For more information, please contact: 

Wendy Bisaro Tim Mercer 
Caucus Chair Clerk of the Legislative Assembly 
(867) 669-2274 (867) 669-2299 
Toll Free: 1-800-661-0784 Toll Free: 1-800-661-0784 

Consensus Government in the NWT Guiding Principles 

1. Consensus government is not defined by the absence of party politics. It is defined by the ability and willingness of all Members of the Legislative Assembly to work together, within their respective roles, for the collective good of the people of the Northwest Territories. 

2. Consensus government is a unique combination of the British traditions of ministerial responsibility, cabinet solidarity and legislative accountability and the aboriginal traditions of open dialogue, inclusive decision-making, accommodation, respect and trust. 

3. Open and respectful communication between all Members is the most essential feature of consensus government. While it is impossible to reach unanimous agreement on all issues, the opportunity for all Members to have meaningful input into important decisions is fundamental. 

4. Effective communication is a “double-edged sword.” For consensus government to work, all Members must agree to respect the confidentiality of information before it is properly made public. Similarly, Members should acknowledge the fact that information was shared in confidence once it has been released. 

5. Except under extraordinary circumstances, Members of the Legislative Assembly should be made aware of and have opportunity to discuss significant announcements, changes, consultations or initiatives before they are released to the public or introduced in the Legislative Assembly. Use of the element of surprise is inconsistent with consensus government. 

6. The role of the Caucus is fundamental to the effectiveness of consensus government. Caucus provides a venue for all Members to set broad strategic direction for a Legislative Assembly and discuss matters of widespread importance to the Northwest Territories as they arise. 

7. The Premier and Cabinet are appointed by the Members of the Legislative Assembly to provide overall leadership and direction in accordance with the broad strategic direction set by the Caucus. Cabinet must have the ability to implement this strategic direction effectively and efficiently but in a way that reflects the concerns of Regular Members and maintains their support. 

8. Unlike a party-based parliamentary system, the Regular Members are not a “Cabinet in Waiting.” Their ultimate goal is to support Cabinet in implementing the broad strategic direction set by the Caucus. 

9. As with all parliamentary systems of government, a healthy level of tension must exist between Cabinet and Regular Members. While the ultimate goal of the Regular Members is not to defeat or discredit Cabinet, it is their responsibility to review and monitor the leadership and direction of Cabinet and hold it to account. 

10. The attendance and participation of all Members of the Legislative Assembly within their respective roles is essential to the effectiveness of consensus government. Formal sessions of the Legislative Assembly and meetings of Caucus, Cabinet and standing and special committees must be a priority for every Member.