Looking way south
NWT clerk learns from South African model

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 02/99) - Could the NWT learn a thing or two from post-apartheid South Africa?

NWT legislature clerk David Hamilton seems to think so, at least as far as its legislative system goes.

"It was a two-way street," he said of his recent trip to South Africa as part of an international delegation of legislative clerks from Canada and England.

"We learned from each other."

Hamilton said the system of government in South Africa is similar to Canada in how decentralized it is, but it could also be a model for future NWT evolution.

In South Africa, a National Council of Provinces operates a committee system in the provinces to discuss bills before reporting back to the main legislature on each bill that has a "global effect" on the country.

That means all regions have a say in decision- making because they also have a veto on legislation that affects them.

Hamilton suggested that one possibility for the future NWT would be one main legislature with eight regional governments acting much like in South Africa where there is a strong decentralized committee system.

"I was intrigued by their system because, if a future constitution (NWT Act) were that way, we could end up having that kind of arrangement," the 19-year veteran of the NWT legislature said.

The NWT Act is a federal act which is the legal foundation that allows the GNWT to operate as a government.

"For 25 or 30 years we've been talking about our new constitution, what it should look like and where do Aboriginal people fit into it. Maybe it's time we put it all to bed (and reflect on this kind of model)," said Hamilton.

While learning about the South African system, Hamilton said his group helped give legislative staff there a strategy on how to conduct public meetings.

"The men and women working there were excited...because they were working within a new system that was theirs and they were so much part of it. They felt the pride of being able to shape the parliamentary system from an administrator's point of view," he said.

"The politicians can dictate what this system is going to look like, but I've always had the opinion that it's the staff that make it work."