NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Exploring a fair division of power
Commission hears concerns about proposed electoral boundaries

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, March 7, 2013

An unwillingness to have more electoral districts within the city of Yellowknife is a common theme that the commission tasked with reviewing the territory's electoral boundaries has heard in the Deh Cho.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Northwest Territories Electoral Boundaries Commission held a public hearing in Fort Simpson on Feb. 26. The members of the commission include Charles Furlong, left, Justice Shannon Smallwood and Ian McCrea. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

The Northwest Territories Electoral Boundaries Commission held public hearings in three Deh Cho communities, Fort Providence on Feb. 6, Wrigley on Feb. 25, and Fort Simpson on Feb. 26. The public hearings are part of the commission's mandate to review the territory's electoral boundaries.

The electoral districts have to be reviewed after every second general election. The 17th legislative assembly asked the commission to recommend boundaries that would divide the territory into 18, 19 or 21 electoral districts, said Justice Shannon Smallwood, the commission's chairperson.

In creating three boundary options, one of the key considerations for the three members of the commission was to make sure that the population of the territory is divided as equally as possible between the electoral districts. The goal was to keep each district within 25 per cent of the average number of persons per riding, Smallwood said. With the current boundaries, 10 of the 19 electoral districts are either over or under represented by more than 25 per cent.

The commission also weighed other factors, called community of interest considerations, that group people together who share certain characteristics. The factors include language, land claims and historic and transportation links, said Smallwood.

The commission is also gathering input from residents in 14 communities by conducting public hearings.

In Fort Simpson both Celine Antoine and JoAnne Deneron spoke out against the possibility of another seat being given to Yellowknife.

"We don't want to see another seat in Yellowknife," Deneron said.

As a resident of Fort Liard, Deneron said there needs to be a balance of power in the territory so that the smaller communities aren't ignored.

Summary of public comments

According to the summary of public comments prepared by the commission, people who attended the hearings in Fort Providence and Wrigley also objected to increasing the number of electoral districts within Yellowknife.

There is already an imbalance of power in the territory that favours Yellowknife, Antoine said. The people there, however, have no interest in the lands in the Deh Cho and whether they are protected, she said.

Antoine also objected to all three of the electoral boundaries options presented by the commission. In each case, the Deh Cho riding would be dissolved and incorporated into a larger riding. The Deh Cho is currently over represented by 40.1 per cent.

Antoine said the Deh Cho and Nahendeh ridings need to remain as they are because the majority of the communities in each are linked by the ongoing Dehcho Process. Removing the Deh Cho riding would skew the balance of power even more, she added.

In all three options, the Nahendeh remains as it currently is. The riding is only -2.4 per cent off the average number of persons per riding under the current electoral boundaries.

In Fort Providence, according to the summary of public comments, several people opposed to the grouping of South Slavey, Chipewyan and Dogrib people that would occur in the proposed new districts in the three scenarios. It was noted that these are people with different languages, land claims and self-government processes.

Smallwood said the commission will be considering all of the suggestions and concerns voiced during the public hearings. The commission is scheduled to report to the legislative assembly in May. The assembly will make the final decisions about the boundaries, she said.

Territorial residents can also send written submissions to the commission by fax, e-mail or mail. The submission deadline is March 28.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.