Election time, NWT style

Monday is polling day in the Northwest Territories. Here in the NWT, when we vote, we have no firm idea who will be our premier. We cannot vote for or against any particular political philosophy or party platform. We can neither re-elect a government whose policies we support, nor oust one whose actions we reject. We can only vote for a candidate running in the particular riding in which we live. This time 'round there are 48 candidates for 19 seats, with three acclamations.

Members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) in NWT (and Nunavut) are elected as independents in their constituencies "under [a] consensus system of government rather than the more familiar system of party politics."

This means the government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has taken on an indigenous character of its own. Its leaders, and many northerners, have rejected partisan politics. 

"At present, the legislative process is based on ‘consensus.' The process has created its own dynamic between the government leader, ministers of the Crown. and ‘ordinary' members of the legislature," according to M.O. Dickerson of the Arctic Institute of North America in his book Who's North. Read more about consensus government here. A Legislative Assembly' fact sheets on Consensus Government explains how the newly elected MLAs select the Speaker, the Premier and six additional Cabinet Members.

What makes territorial politics so much fun in the north is the power of the vote, because the ridings have so few voters. Not only is one close to the politicians, but my vote has more worth than one in southern Canada.

In my riding of Frame Lake (in Yellowknife) Wendy Bisaro won her seat in the last campaign with 389 votes (56.05 per cent of 688 votes cast).

I have a list of all the candidates for NWT MLA, including all the web pages, Twitter and Facebook accounts, for those who have 'em. By the way, if you're on Twitter you can follow posts about the NWT election with the #nwtelect17 hash-tag. See why you might want to below.

Here's the fun part for political animals...

Since there are no political parties, no platforms, and no party leaders, there is no organized way to consider territorial-wide issues, despite the fact that such issues exist. So how can a territory with so many small communities scattered over as large a land mass as the NWT ever be able to reach a consensus?

Facebook! I set up an "Open Group" to stimulate territory-wide discussion and debate.

Why?

You might think that in a place where internet access is so expensive and slow, Facebook might not be a good idea -- but here are a couple of examples of how it can work:

Of Tuktoyaktuk with a population of 929, CBC North recently reported that there was over 500 people on Facebook with Tuk as a hometown or place of residence. That's the important social part in social media.

And in the Eastern Arctic, Nunatsiaq News reports that the 3,423-member "You Might Be A INUK if Facebook Open Group page is one example of the growing popularity of Facebook and other social media sites among Inuit -- at least in Canada. Online, communities in Nunavut and Nunavik are using Facebook as a forum to discuss politics, post public service announcements, and to buy and sell merchandise."

Earlier this year, hundreds of Facebook users in Nunavik created a page in the months leading up to the vote on the Nunavik Regional Government in April. The site became a place to discuss the proposed governance model and many say it played a large role in the resounding rejection of it."

Of course, Facebook not a perfect addition to the electoral process. Rajiv, one member of the group says "It seems that this Facebook group is the only online discussion free-for-all covering the 2011 NWT elections. I'm a bit dismayed not more candidates (or a deputized communications assistant) have availed themselves of this opportunity to engage potential voters, mano-a-mano. As such, I must commend those candidates who have ventured into the mosh pit of the Internet to voice their opinions beyond simply posting updates to their websites where people can't respond."

It shouldn't take extra courage to do so, especially if one is running for public office, but perhaps it's a bit intimidating. Now not all people are on Facebook or think that the internet is potentially constructive or a useful method to communicate, but if one is in the business of governance, it seems such a view is quite myopic. I'm a Luddite myself, and hate cell phones, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't be available by whatever means to one's constituency."

He goes on to say "... For better or worse, 50 per cent of the population, and almost 100 per cent of the youth are on Facebook. Why not have a no-holds bar conversation on Facebook about elections issues?

"And perhaps they might think they have no time, but election time IS the time to discuss these issues, unless you want to control your image very carefully. If this is the case, then you will also appear inauthentic as well."

Bea Lepine MLA candidate for Hay River North says in response to that statement: "....perhaps the reason more candidates aren't posting is they will leave a race in cyber space and we can be called on what we said someday. I don't know. But it is too bad. I wish more of them would get on here and debate the issues...."

George Lessard, a media specialist and long time northerner resident, taught broadcast journalism in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec), in Inuvik, NWT, and in Nassau, Bahamas. He also worked in Beijing as a "foreign expert," editor and polisher for the China Daily group of publications. In 2010 he was a member of the NWT's first "Elders Parliament" for Yellowknife's Frame Lake constituency. 

He is also the moderator of the first and only territory-wide Facebook-based elections forum "NWT Elections for the 17th Assembly." 

To see the all-candidates debate for the NWT elections, which took place on Sept. 26 and was livestreamed by rabble.ca, please click here

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