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Democracy at work, just not full-time

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

We’ve recently seen two great examples of democracy at work across our nation; both showing how government can work so much better when not influenced by partisan politics.

At its inception, the government of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, deliberately opted for an elected assembly without political parties, with all decisions of the legislature being based on a consensus being reached by the 22 elected members.

Also, in this non-partisan system, Nunavut’s premier is chosen by the elected members of the legislature, not by a political party apparatus. And this same legislature has the power, if it chooses, to remove the premier from office by a majority vote of the members, which is exactly what they did last month.

With a minimum of fuss, premier Paul Quassa was removed from office by a majority vote taken by his colleagues. As for the reason for his removal, one of the members was quoted as saying “There’s been a tendency to an autocratic style of leading, which clashes with our consensus style of government.”

And so, Joe Savikataaq, a member of Quassa’s cabinet, who promised to work more closely with his colleagues, was elected to replace Quassa, who remained on as a member of the legislature.

Closer to home, in Inverness County, warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie is facing a municipal council revolt. Four of the six councillors planned to vote to replace her as warden at a special meeting this past Friday.

Councillor John Dowling said he and several other councillors had very specific concerns about MacQuarrie's performance and he regretted having voted for her to become warden in the first place. In particular, he said she had failed to consult council on several important issues, and misrepresented councillors' views in public.

A decision by council on the matter was deferred until a scheduled November review of her performance halfway through her tenure, which seems like a wise step anyway.

In both Nunavut and Inverness County, we see local governments exercising their right to censure their leaders for unsatisfactory performance; a possibility that would be totally out of the question in a political party system, where the government leader has typically been chosen by unelected, card-carrying party members.

And there are many inducements in a political party system to incent party insiders in their efforts, including lucrative appointments and employment opportunities within government and the party apparatus.

This regimen typically features tight control of the political agenda, with elected members rarely allowed to stray from the party line; this control being seen as essential to maintaining power in government, which after all is the main objective of political parties.

This emphasis on “toeing the party line” can restrict the ability of party members to vote for what they feel is best for their constituents; a right that members of non-partisan legislatures can exercise without fear of reprisals.

Perhaps the most regrettable feature of politicised government is the squandering of human capital and talent, when almost half of our elected representatives can end up languishing in the purgatory of “opposition”. It’s been said that a bad day in government is better than a good day in opposition and this is a sad commentary on what passes for democracy in this country.

In our recent county elections, Progressive Conservative Tory Rushton emerged as the winner to fill the vacant MLA seat in Cumberland South. I voted for Rushton not for his Conservative credentials, but for his solid reputation in our Oxford community.

If I had been more familiar with the record of Scott Lockhart, the Liberal candidate, I might have voted for him instead, ignoring the politics of these candidates’ parties, but assessing their willingness to put their community needs before party considerations ….which is exactly how an election not subject to party politics would be conducted, to the benefit of the community, and our province as a whole.

Meanwhile, in our real world we remain an “all-blue” county with two very capable Conservative MLA’s – Elizabeth Smith McCrossin and Tory Rushton -  committed to do their best for the county, in the face of a strong Liberal majority government that is less inclined to satisfy Cumberland County’s specific needs.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and

worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at

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