A failed institution
When a young, unemployed, uneducated youth breaks into your local co-op to steal a few cases of pop and candy, we call him a criminal.
We expect and rightly so that such thieves will be arrested by the police, charged, convicted, and sentenced to a fit punishment.
But when an affluent, educated person breaks into your government to gain a position in which they are free to loot hundreds of thousands, and sometimes even millions of dollars worth of unearned contracts, leases, and other arbitrary benefits from the public treasury for himself and his friends, we call him a “public servant.”
If their method of entry happens to be via the elected route, and they happen to end up in the cabinet, we even let them put the word “honourable” before their names.
In the Northwest Territories, we have created a system of government in which white-collar criminality and ethical rule-breaking is possible to commit without anyone every knowing about it.
One of the most egregious examples of this was the GNWT’s longstanding policy of confidentiality with respect to the terms of sole-source and negotiated contracts.
Because of this, no one will ever know how many of these contracts in the past were awarded legitimately, and how many were awarded as a result of influence peddling which is a criminal offense or political patronage. To his credit, Premier Don Morin has finally agreed to publish information about these kinds of contracts.
But mysteriously, just as the GNWT has at the same time begun to make use of another way of awarding contracts requests for proposals, or RFPs. Though GNWT officials claim that RFPs work the same way as competitive public tender bids, most people outside the government believe otherwise.
Whether it’s fair or not, most people in the business community and elsewhere believe that RFPs are simply a convenient tool by which the GNWT may circumvent public competitive tendering. That’s because the process of awarding contracts through RFPs is murky, vague and not accessible to the public.
It’s also because many residents have lost faith in the institutions they normally rely upon to protect us from unethical and criminal behaviour in government.
Chief among these is the NWT legislative assembly, many of whose MLAs display little understanding of ethical issues. Many of those who do appear to be either too lazy, too cowardly or too hungover to protect the public interest, including Nunavut’s public interest
It’s no wonder then, that Nunavut Tunngavik announced last week that they plan to set up a “shadow cabinet” to provide some forthright and sustained criticism of the GNWT. The only surprise about this announcement is that they didn’t do so two or three years ago.
NTI now has a long list of beefs with the GNWT including the GNWT’s continued support of the Keewatin health board’s audacious contempt for public opinion in their region, an equally audacious GNWT plan for fuel delivery in the Keewatin that may violate the Nunavut Act, and continued problems with the implementation of Arcticle 24.
But in creating an extra-legislative opposition to the territorial government, NTI is also acknowledging what many others have believed for a long time. And that is that the consensus system of government is failing, not because consensus government is a bad idea, but because not enough MLAs are doing what’s need to make it work.
For those exceptional MLAs who have tried to protect the public interest such as Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes, Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen, Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco and Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’ Brien this is an unfair judgement.
But for others, its not unfair, especially for those MLAs who have even stooped so low as to read questions written for them by cabinet ministers.
Our only hope is that the 13th legislative assembly provides an instructive example for those who plan to run for Nunavut’s legislature early in 1999. JB