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Re-drawing electoral boundaries
Tu Nedhe and Yellowknives Dene communities will be amalgamated into new riding

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 11, 2013

When deciding where boundaries are drawn between electoral districts and how many MLAs should represent the people of the Northwest Territories, should priority be given to ensuring each First Nation is fairly represented in the house or is the amalgamation of different cultures inevitable because of changing demographics in the territory?

This was debated in the legislature on Nov. 5 as MLAs decided between three recommendations presented by the NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Ultimately, MLAs voted to maintain the present 19 ridings by a close vote of 10 to seven, but rework some of the boundaries to balance population distribution.

The most drastic change involves removing Ndilo and Dettah from the Weledeh riding, and including them in a new riding with the Tu Nedhe communities of Lutsel K'e and Fort Resolution.

Tu Nedhe MLA Tom Beaulieu vehemently opposed that option which he said would "essentially eliminate one seat from the small communities."

Beaulieu's first language is Chipewyan, which allows him to travel house-to-house in the communities to speak with people, primarily elders, who would normally struggle to have their issues understood in English.

Tu Nedhe has been a riding for the past 34 years, and although the two communities' population continues to decrease because of out-migration as people move to larger centres in search of work, there are many precedents at the federal level for small jurisdictions such as Labrador - and all three territories - to have their own representatives in the Senate and the House of Commons, said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu told News/North he feels his arguments "fell on deaf ears," as MLAs honed in on the added costs associated with two more MLAs in the legislature and creating more equality the populations between ridings.

Language and culture were said to be factors considered by the commissioners as they did their work.

Further, both Beaulieu and Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said the Yellowknives Dene do not want to be taken out of their Yellowknife riding.

"It's very disappointing. I think Yellowknifers pride themselves in their affiliation with the Yellowknives Dene," Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley told News/North.

"I think, as a riding, we've enjoyed being a very diverse bunch of people and cultures."

The only option presented in which Tu Nedhe would have continued to exist was the 21-seat option, which was opposed by several MLAs on the grounds of keeping the government as small and efficient as possible.

The 21-seat option would have added one new riding in Yellowknife area and split Monfwi into two by creating an extra seat for Behchoko.

Under the 19-seat option, Monfwi constituents become the most under-represented in the legislature. Several Tlicho leaders, including Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus, were in the legislature to hear the debate, and their MLA Jackson Lafferty cautioned members that the Dogrib communities were quite clear in their desire for more representation, and that, if necessary, they could take the issue to court.

Erasmus was not available for an interview by press time.

It is estimated two MLAs - including salary, travel costs and constituency budget - would cost a total of $2.4 million per four-year term.

That is money better spent on nurses or teachers or addictions services, Glen Abernethy argued.

Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen suggested the money could be saved elsewhere. With a territorial government that employs more that 5,000 people in a territory of only 42,000 inhabitants, surely a few redundant managers or deputy ministers could be found, she said.

On the other side of the debate, Bisaro attempted to put the added cost into perspective, saying "to those who decry the cost of two more MLAs, I have to ask them, at what price comes democracy?"

Despite the arguments, that price tag was too high for the 10 MLAs who voted in favour of the 19-seat option, including Kam Lake MLA David Ramsay.

"The population in the NWT hasn't been growing," said Ramsay. "We do not need more politicians."

Now that one of the commission's recommendations has been approved, legislation will be drafted. Beaulieu said he hopes MLAs take time to reconsider their position before the legislation returns to the assembly to be passed.

"I hope it will be voted down," he said. "From my perspective, it's just not right to do that to a whole nation of people. Everyone has the right to be represented."

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