Democracy on hold
Leaders to hear people's concerns

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 21/99) - Adding seats to the legislative assembly won't happen through Bill 15 -- for now.

That's good for the aboriginal camp that launched an appeal disputing the recent Friends of Democracy court ruling that said the current system doesn't accurately represent the population.

Dene national chief, Bill Erasmus, said his people will use the next month to discuss the proposed bill to consult with the Dene people.

"We asked that Bill 15 not be rushed so we could take the time to go into the communities and get people's views," Dene national chief, Bill Erasmus, said.

"We have to take that time so our appeal is not undermined. If (Bill 15) was pushed through prior to the June 15 hearing, then we wouldn't see our day in court."

The bill, which calls for the addition of three seats for Yellowknife and one each for Hay River and Inuvik, didn't make it through the last legislative session. Yellowknife North MLA, Roy Erasmus, said the Western Caucus was aware of the conflict and didn't want to interfere with the appeal.

"The legal advice we're getting is saying the appeal would be redundant if Bill 15 was passed because the government would have done what the Friends of Democracy are trying to do," Erasmus said.

"I voted in favour of more seats for Yellowknife, but that doesn't mean we wanted to wipe out the appeal. In the interest of fairness, we want that discussion to take place."

The legislative assembly will reconvene on July 23. Roy Erasmus said the Western Caucus will use the time from now until then to get in touch with the people, and address the many concerns Northern communities have about electoral boundary restructuring.

He added that the debate may affect the creation of a Northern Accord to transfer control of resources from the federal government.

"There's 30 smaller communities out there that aren't happy (with Bill 15). If we don't make an effort to make this easier to accept then it will be a lot more difficult to get a Northern Accord," Erasmus said.

"We'll be holding public meetings to decide how to involve the communities in the discussion and to find out what people think."

Bill Erasmus said he's confident the upcoming appeal will be successful.

"We're concerned about the 20,000 Dene who have been trying to talk out a political solution. We've chosen to talk to all peoples of the North so we have a constitution that represents all people of the territories," he said.

"(The representation by population) argument may be applicable in the South because the historical framework is different. They have a reserve system and aboriginal people are a minority. Here, we all know this issue is still evolving."