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A call to arms

Special committee proposed to address rural community concerns

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 25/02) - A conflict never far from the surface in the legislative assembly is about to erupt once again.

MLAs from small communities believe their people are being overlooked.

This week members will debate whether or not to establish a committee dedicated to changing that.

"In some of the communities it's like Third World conditions when you compare them to the regional centres," said Steven Nitah. The Tu Nedhe MLA notified the assembly last Wednesday he will propose establishing the committee soon.

Nitah said the government is doing little to address the gulf that exists between small and large communities in areas such as education, health and infrastructure.

The balance between small community representatives and those representing regional centres has shifted dramatically in the last three years.

When the legislature lost its Nunavut members to division in 1999, the small-community majority thinned. Since electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2000, the regional centres have held sway.

Twelve of the 19 MLAs represent regional centres. Yellowknife has seven representatives in the assembly.

Deh Cho MLA Michael McLeod, who seconded Nitah's motion, said he is not concerned about creating a divide between small community MLAs and those representing large centres.

"What do you think we have now?" asked McLeod.

"We have the Yellowknife MLAs who meet together regularly."

"All of the ministers live in Yellowknife. The city of Yellowknife has direct access to the ministers. All of the deputy ministers are Yellowknife residents."

Even representatives of regional centres have recognized the imbalance.

Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen began the budget session with a call to cabinet to do all it can to make sure smaller communities benefit from the economic boom the Northwest Territories is enjoying.

Inuvik's Floyd Roland said he will support Nitah's motion.

Roland said he is concerned about getting into a large versus small centre scenario, but said such a special committee would be a benefit to the assembly.

"I think it might be an opportunity to see the small community perspective and how they feel disadvantaged compared to larger centres," Roland said.

The establishment of a committee focusing on small community concerns would carry with it an unwritten obligation to carefully consider, if not act on, its recommendations.

Nitah is proposing a committee that would exist for the rest of the term of this government.