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Creation of the Northwest Territories
History of the Legislative Assembly
When the Northwest Territories became part of Canada in 1870, it
included what is now the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, Alberta,
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Ontario and northern Quebec. The
Arctic Islands were added in 1880. During this period, the Northwest
Territories had government based on two key concepts of Canadian
democracy - representation and responsibility. Its Legislative Assembly
was fully elected and from 1897, the Assembly had a formally constituted
Executive Council, which was accountable to the Assembly for the
conduct of government.
The federal government created the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan
in 1905 after receiving pressure from the Northwest Territories Council.
The remaining Northwest Territories reverted back to the status of
a colony run from Ottawa as it had been in the early 1870's.
The Northwest Territories Act had provided for a four-member
appointed Council to assist the federally appointed Commissioner
but no members were named to the Council until 1921. All were federal
civil servants living in Ottawa. The appointed Council acted more
as an interdepartmental committee than as a legislative body.
No northerners were named to the Council until 1947 when J.G. McNiven
of Yellowknife was appointed. In 1951, there was a tentative return
to representative government when the Northwest Territories Act was
amended to permit three elected Members from the Mackenzie District
to join the five appointed Members. The Council began to alternate
sittings between Ottawa and northern communities.
By 1966, elected Members formed a majority on the Council with
seven elected and five appointed. The first elected members from
the eastern Arctic, including the first Inuit Member, took their
By this time, political awareness in the North had increased and
there was strong dissatisfaction with the system. The Territorial
Council asked for an inquiry into the North’s political future
and, in 1966, the Carrothers Commission, with former Commissioner
John H. Parker as a member, submitted its report after traveling
across the Territories to talk to residents.
Most of the Commission’s recommendations were accepted by
the federal government early in 1967 and formed the basis for a gradual
return to responsible government. The seat of government was moved
from Ottawa to Yellowknife, a resident civil service was developed,
Ottawa devolved many provincial-type responsibilities and the NWT
Council began to move towards becoming a fully elected Legislative
By 1970, only four federal appointees remained on the 14-member
Council. Amendments to the NWT Act allowed Council to decide
the qualifications of electors and its Members, to set their indemnities
and to develop a separate Consolidated Revenue Fund. By 1975 a standing
committee system had developed and the Standing Committee on Finance
was given the right to scrutinize the territorial budget.
In 1975, the first fully-elected Council since 1905 took office.
Dene, Metis and Inuit Members were the majority on the 15-seat Council.
The Council, which was referred to as the Legislative Assembly after
1976, chose its own Speaker and named two members to the Executive
Committee. The Commissioner no longer presided over Assembly sessions
as had been customary in earlier Councils. The Eighth Assembly amended
the Council Ordinance and lobbied the Federal government for authority
to set the number of constituencies between 15 and 25. The number
was subsequently set at 22.
The 22 Members elected to the Ninth Assembly in October 1979 accelerated
the movement towards responsible government. The Assembly named seven
of its Members to sit on the Executive Committee (now called the
Executive Council). Only three portfolios were still held by the
Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner and, by the end of the Ninth
Assembly, two of those were transferred to elected Members. The
Deputy Commissioner’s position on the
Executive Council was replaced by an eighth elected member in 1983.
The Assembly created a Special Committee to review education in
the NWT and at the same time a plebiscite was held on the question
of dividing the Northwest Territories. Members played an active role
in reviewing the territorial budget and in setting spending priorities.
The first territorial Finance Minister was appointed and presided
over the preparation of budgets. The Assembly lobbied strongly for
the protection of aboriginal rights in the new Canadian constitution,
traveling to Ottawa en masse, and received approval-in-principle
from the federal government for division of the Northwest Territories.
The Assembly accepted an electoral district boundaries commission
report recommending that two of the larger constituencies be divided
to create a total of 24 ridings. Territorial voters went to the polls
on November 21, 1983 to elect 24 Members to the Tenth Legislative
Assembly. It met for the first time in Yellowknife in January 1984.
During the Tenth Assembly, Commissioner Parker announced he would
no longer sit with elected Members in the House or participate in
debates as one step toward fully responsible government.
On January 30, 1986, Commissioner Parker turned over chairmanship
of the Executive Council to the Government Leader and transferred
responsibility for the Public Service to the Executive Council. The
Tenth Legislative Assembly was dissolved in 1987 and an election
was held on October 5, 1987 to choose the 24 Members of the Eleventh
After their first session, Members of the Eleventh Assembly elected
an Executive Council, or Cabinet, with a majority of Ministers of
The Legislative Assembly also gave the new Government Leader authority
for the overall management and direction of the Executive branch
of government and the right to take any disciplinary action he or
she deemed necessary with respect to the conduct of Ministers.
The first order of business for Members of the 12th Assembly was
to elect a Speaker. For the first time, this process was done in
public. The public also had the chance to view the election of the
Government Leader and the Members of the Executive Council.
In February 1994 Members passed a motion officially changing the
title of Government Leader to Premier.
The 24 members of the Thirteenth Legislative Assembly were chosen
in an election on October 16, 1995. Again the election of the Speaker,
the Premier, and the seven Cabinet Ministers were held in a public
forum. A new Premier was elected in December 1998 following the
resignation of the former Premier.
On February 15, 1999, 19 Members were elected to serve on the first
Nunavut Legislative Assembly. However, Members were not sworn in
until April 1 st.
On April 1, 1999 two new territories, Nunavut and a new Northwest
Territories, were created in Canada’s North. The 19 Members
elected in Nunavut officially took office. In the NWT the 14 western
Members of the 13 th Legislative Assembly remained in office.
1999 Members agreed that 19 Members would be elected on December
6 th, 1999 to the 14 th Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.
On December 6 th, 1999, 19 Members were elected to the 14 th Legislative
Assembly of the Northwest Territories, the first Assembly chosen
in the NWT following division. Members of the current 15 th Legislative
Assembly were elected on November 24, 2003.