Peculiar Consensus Way Up North


Interior of NWT Legislative Assembly Building

Election Season Installment 2:  One of the more peculiar features of Canada’s provincial political culture has to be the consensus-type government in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  Unlike the party-driven systems that are most typical of representative governments, in a consensus system — at least in those two provinces — all candidates are elected as independents to a legislature and those representatives then select among themselves a premier and cabinet ministers.  The remaining members, who comprise a majority, then act as a de facto loyal opposition by holding the executive leaders accountable.

The consensus system first developed in the Northwest Territories, partly due to the community-based traditions of cooperativeness and consensus decisionmaking  among the Inuit  and other northern peoples.  Consensus governing was naturally adopted by Nunavut shortly after that most-northern province  was split off from NWT. 

Purportedly, consensus governing is less about one-upsmanship and avoids the usual problems associated with the party that is then out of power continually seeking to regain a position of primacy.  It may work better in Nunavut and NWT because of the relatively small size of those two provincial governments as compared to that of the other provinces or, for that matter, the federal government as a whole.

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