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Study Tour to Yellowknife

In May, we were thrilled to travel to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT) for our next study tour of the year. The Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories does not have political parties and instead utilizes consensus government to develop policies and make legislative decisions. As a result, we were fascinated to learn about consensus decision-making and how this system differs from the one we’ve become familiar with at Queen’s Park. Notably, the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) collectively vote on and elect the Premier and six Cabinet members to form government. We were pleased to meet with Premier Caroline Cochrane and five Cabinet Ministers and to hear about their experiences in government in the NWT.

We also enjoyed meeting with the other eleven MLAs of the Legislative Assembly, who together make up the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight (AOC) Since there are no parties in the NWT, MLAs are highly collaborative with one another and often work together to advocate on certain issues. We were interested to sit in on an AOC meeting and watch this collaboration firsthand.

It was fascinating to hear about the experiences of MLAs who represent such diverse communities across the territory. Additionally, with no party system, MLAs run for political office as individuals, which naturally makes elections much different than in Ontario. We were intrigued to hear about some of the challenges with running elections in Canada’s North from Mr. Stephen Dunbar, NWT’s Chief Electoral Officer. For example, many communities in the NWT are remote and only accessible by plane or ice roads at certain times each year, which poses difficulties when accessing polling locations.

During our study tour, we had the pleasure of meeting both the Clerk, Mr. Tim Mercer, and the Speaker, Hon. Frederick Blake, who openly shared their insights into day-to-day procedures of the Legislative Assembly, as well as some benefits and disadvantages of consensus government from their perspective.

To complement our experience in the Legislative Assembly, we met with individuals in NWT’s public service and security. Major Collin Stockwell of Joint Task Force North, the Canadian Armed Forces branch in the North, discussed the types of security initiatives and safeguards in place in the NWT. Ms. Shawn McCann of the Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations, Department of Executive and Indigenous Relations gave a thorough presentation on the major files she handles in her work, such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Lastly, we were also excited to meet with Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. Steve Loutitt, and Assistant Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. David Moore, who discussed major upcoming and ongoing infrastructure projects in the North, as well as the importance of Indigenous consultation in their work.

We also had the opportunity to meet with several organizations and individuals doing important work around Yellowknife and the broader NWT. Ms. Julia Deans and Executive Director Ms. Alayna Ward of Habitat for Humanity NWT provided unique insight into the challenges of constructing housing in the territory. Ms. France Benoit, from Alternative North, discussed her work in promoting urban farming and local agriculture in the North. The Executive Director of the Native Women’s Association of NWT, Ms. Brenda Norris, spoke passionately about advocating for Native’s women’s rights and to increase the number of Native women in public spaces, higher education, and positions of power. These individuals gave us better insight into non-governmental spaces and their important advocacy in the territory.

Given that roughly half of the population of the NWT is Indigenous and that many of the 33 communities across the territory are primarily Indigenous groups, we gained a better appreciation for the need for consultation during a visit to Dettah to speak with Mr. Michael Rudkin, Chief Executive Officer of the Dene First Nation. On our last day in Yellowknife, we were graciously hosted by Ms. Jordee Reid and Mr. Taltson Mcqueen. Over a bowl of stew and traditional Bannock, they discussed the importance of preserving language, culture, and tradition within legislation.

We would like to thank all the individuals we had the pleasure of meeting during our time in the NWT. We thoroughly appreciated learning more about the political system from current political leaders and advocates in the North, all the while enjoying the beauty of the territory!

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