Consensus government in Canada
Consensus government is a form of consensus democracy government in Canada in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, as well as Nunatsiavut, an autonomous area in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The population of these jurisdictions are majority aboriginal. The system developed in the Northwest Territories beginning during the 1970s, and was adopted by Nunavut when it came into existence in 1999.
Origins and development
In 1905, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were separated from the then much larger Northwest Territories. The Yukon Territory had been created in 1898 to facilitate governance of the Yukon goldfields, and both Ontario and Quebec were granted large areas of northern lands. The remaining lands were considered to be unsettled by Europeans, largely inhabited by Dene, Métis and Inuit, and not requiring much governance. The Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, a functionary reporting to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in Ottawa, was given plenary governing authority.
A legislative council was convened from time to time of worthy notables, learned in matters involving the natives and northern development. The 2nd Council of the Northwest Territories met sporadically, typically in Ottawa, and passed ordinances for the benefit of the territory.
Beginning during the 1950s and 1960s some residents of the territory were appointed or elected to the council. These elected members were initially non-native, but in growing number, were Dene, Métis and Inuit. Members began to secure positions on the executive council, replacing appointed Ottawa administrators, and began to insist on a devolution of authority. In a series of letters, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs gradually curtailed the authority of the commissioner and affirmed the authority of the assembly.
The first fully elected executive council elected in 1980 was led by George Braden, and the system of consensus government developed from that date.
Members of the legislature are elected as independents from single member districts by simple plurality voting. The legislature selects first the speaker, then the premier, and finally the cabinet members from amongst themselves. In each instance the candidate must obtain a majority of the votes cast. This means that multiple ballots may occur before a successful candidate is selected.
The premier has three main authorities. The premier:
- names the portfolios of each minister and can remove or adjust these,
- controls the agenda of the cabinet/executive council, and
- hires, rewards, and dismisses the deputy department heads.
The passage of legislation and the government is dependent on retaining the confidence of the legislature. However due to the absence of political parties there is no formal opposition and instead of party caucuses members regularly participate in a caucus of all members of the legislature.
Developing a government platform
When ministers have been elected and selected by a consensus system, it is inevitable that there is not any common agenda for the proposed work of the government. Such an agenda is developed by the cabinet and members, and is called a mandate or consensus statement, and is typically made public early in the term of a new assembly.
While consensus models of discourse often require that a true consensus be obtained, in consensus government policies advanced by the government are decided upon by majority vote; the government must therefore recommend policies that please a majority of the entire legislature if it wants them to be approved.
List of consensus governments
- Kevin O'Brien (2003). "Some Thoughts on Consensus Government in Nunavut". Canadian Parliamentary Review. Retrieved 2011-07-06.