The proper role of MLAs
Premier Don Morin may well be enraged at the barrage of questions that MLAs have been firing at him and other cabinet ministers over a lease that the GNWT has signed with the owners of the Lahm Ridge Towers office building in Yellowknife.
He may also be enraged at what he calls “speculation and innuendo” — by which he appears to mean all the various rumours that have circulated throughout the territories since last fall, when the Lahm Bridge deal was struck.
All this is natural and understandable. Morin has every right to defend himself, his reputation, and the actions of the government that he oversees.
But he has no right to interfere with legitimate public debate on that or any other subject in which the public has an interest — especially if that debate is taking place among legislators whose sworn responsibility is to ask questions on our behalf.
Many Nunavut residents may believe that the Lahm Ridge Tower affair is not relevant to us. It is after all, a deal involving Yellowknife business people, Yellowknife politicians, and a Yellowknife building that will soon accomodate a western territorial government.
But when Premier Morin rose on February 4 to unleash his highly-publicized attack on MLAs and others who have questioned the Lahm Ridge Tower lease, the nature of the debate changed.
What began as debate over a lucrative office space lease handed out to two close associates of the premier became a debate over the proper role of MLAs within the consensus system of government.
And that — given that we’ll be electing our own legislature in about a year — is highly relevant for us.
Shortly after he got the premier’s job, Morin made a big show out of tearing down the door that separates cabinet offices from those occupied by ordinary MLAs. He talked a lot about a new “collegial” way of governing, in which cabinet members and ordinary MLAs would work together as equals.
In doing this, Morin was obviously attempting to invoke the spirit of consensus government — a philosophy most Nunavut residents expect to see practiced in our own legislature.
Unfortunately, Morin and his government have done little to show that they understand consensus — at least the traditional forms of consensus decision-making practiced by Inuit and many other aborginal peoples.
In a real consensus, the views of each and every individual are given equal respect, no matter how divergent from one another they may appear to be. In real consensus, no one leaves the room until everyone’s views have been incorporated into the final decision.
But a “consensus” that has been achieved by intimidation, backstabbing, double-talk, browbeating and ridicule is a phony consensus. And it’s a phony consensus that Morin has been attempting to foist upon us with his talk of “collegial” government.
For example, it was highly improper for him to use an assistant deputy minister of justice, as a “witness” to a meeting that he had with Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen.
Although Morin may not have intended to do so, it creates the impression that he is prepared to use the weight of the GNWT’s justice department as a tool for intimidating MLAs whose questions he finds inconvenient. It’s also improper for any non-elected civil servant to appear to take sides in a dispute between two politicians.
In the end, Morin and other officials finally did what they were asked. They supplied MLAs — and the public — with the information they were asked to provide. It turns out that this information appears to exonerate Morin of any improper involvement in the Lahm Ridge lease.
Fine. But Morin must realize that there are many of us who believe people who aren’t friends of cabinet ministers deserve a chance to get government contracts too. He, and others in government, must also realize that we expect our MLAs ensure that this happens.
If MLAs are prevented from doing that, we won’t have consensus and we won’t have democracy. What we will have is a third-rate, economy-class tyranny.JB