MLAs disappointed in ‘vague’ NWT mandate, ‘bizarre’ process

Legislative Assembly
The Chamber of the NWT Legislative Assembly. Submitted photo
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A number of Yellowknife MLAs feel the territorial government’s new mandate is missing the mark.

For the first time, the territory is publishing a mandate – a document setting out, in detail, how the government plans to achieve its priorities over the next four years.

Those priorities include more transparent decision-making, lowering the cost of living, better education, safer and healthier communities and action on climate change.

However, a group of Yellowknife MLAs argues the proposed 50-page mandate contains errors which have been ignored; is too vague to be useful; and won’t hold ministers sufficiently accountable.

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In full: Read the current version of the proposed NWT mandate (pdf)

“I think it may be a bit scary to some to develop specific, measurable commitments and deliverables for which you would be held accountable, but I guess that’s what I had expected to see in the document,” said Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly, who led criticism of the mandate.

O’Reilly said cabinet members had made some improvements based on feedback from regular MLAs, but he felt most of his comments beyond basic grammatical corrections “were apparently ignored”.

“It’s not clear to me whether my comments were even considered by cabinet,” he said.

“The proposed mandate sets out a set of vague and often unmeasurable objectives rather than specific actions, targets, or end points. For example, ‘capture opportunities’ appears in several places. How does one measure progress or success on such a statement?

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“Developing the mandate in an iterative fashion, trading drafts back and forth with cabinet holding the pen on its own report card, is a bit of a bizarre process.

“I made efforts in good faith to try to improve the proposed mandate through discussion in caucus and in detailed written comments, but cannot support the document tabled by cabinet.”

Kevin O'Reilly
Kevin O’Reilly says he cannot support the NWT’s new mandate in its present, draft form.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart concurred that “there are simply too many vague statements” in the mandate, before questioning the document’s tone.

“The conversation today in our communities is one of, quite frankly, fear. Fear about the future and a lack of knowledge about what the way forward looks like. I would be hopeful for a document that would allow people to have those fears allayed,” he said.

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“Unfortunately, there’s more ‘hurry up and wait’ that’s produced by this.

“There’s no succinct statement that’s very clear to the public about how things are going to move forward and how their lives, the lives of people that we serve, are going to be improved by implementing of this plan, and that’s really why we’re here.”

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green said the process of coming up with the mandate “had not been very gratifying”, voicing her dismay at the growth from five priorities to 130-plus individual areas of the mandate.

“There’s almost nothing that can be measured,” said Green. “It will be difficult for us to show progress on the realization of this mandate.

“Maybe not coincidentally, it will also be difficult to hold the Executive Council to account for what they have achieved or not achieved, because the goals themselves are phrased in such a vague way.”

While Yellowknife MLAs expressed their discontent, MLAs from other regions – with the exception of Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson – appeared far less exercised by the mandate’s contents.

“I support the mandate,” declared Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, “the spirit and intent of ensuring that we have an agenda in the next four years in terms of addressing the priorities of the people of the NWT, ensuring that the families and individuals in our communities are well taken care of. That’s basically the mandate that we have.”

Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu said: “It’s not everything for everybody, but I think it’s a move in the right direction.”

Premier Bob McLeod, in defending the proposed mandate, promised it would enhance accountability and produce clear commitments despite some MLAs’ concerns.

“Development of the mandate has increased collaboration by creating a dialogue between all members about the best way to achieve our priorities,” said McLeod.

“It commits us to a course that is ambitious, but within our means.”

Discussion of the proposed mandate is set to continue at the legislature over the coming days.

So far, the one concrete action taken by regular MLAs has been to strip out a section of the mandate which laid out the territory’s current fiscal context.

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne, who said including the present financial situation was ill-suited to the mandate’s long-term nature, successfully passed a motion to delete the passage.

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