Legislative Libraries in a Consensus Government: Familiarity within the Distinct.

AuthorBurla, Gerry

Two of Canada's three northern territories use a Consensus government model in their legislative assemblies. Some of the unique features of this system are visible in how their parliamentary libraries are situated and used. In this article, the authors outline how parliamentarians and other clients in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut access the libraries' resources in a way that reflects the openness and the cooperation associated with this method of governance.


In a Consensus-style government there are no party allegiances. The Members are elected based on their relatability to the communities they represent. In this environment, even the Chamber differs slightly from the traditional Westminster-style Parliament. Traditionally, the governing party sits across the floor from the opposition Members in most parliaments. In a Consensus-style legislature, the seats are arranged in a circle. This layout symbolizes that Members are one amongst equals. The sentiment is echoed in the selection of the Cabinet (who do sit in near proximity to each other) where the Premier and Ministers are selected by the Members themselves during the Territorial Leadership Committee (Northwest Territories) or the Leadership Forum (Nunavut).

Although the circular seating plan gives the perception of unity, the Members sit as individuals. This individuality can be daunting for some Members, especially newly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who are still trying to find their way. There are no party affiliations to create an instant bond--each Member is on his or her own.

The Legislative Library can serve as a meeting place for Members to congregate and 'discover familiarity.' Most MLAs have visited libraries in their home communities or spent time in study carrels at school. In the first few days after an election, the Members are introduced to the Caucus Room, the Chamber, the Committee Rooms, their offices, and several other unfamiliar surroundings. The Library offers a sense of familiarity, even if this is their first time visiting the Legislative Library at the Legislature.

The Library's location within the Precinct gives testimony to this purpose. In the Northwest Territories, the Library is situated directly beneath the Caucus Room; gatherings and discussions held there may be continued in the Library in a much less formal manner. The Caucus Room mimics the Chamber in its circular design. It is smaller than the Chamber, but still...

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