Two ideas were sleepers

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 01/96) - The main proposal featured in the draft constitutional package has drawn the kind of flak normally reserved for something more than a mere possibility.

 And that brouhaha has left little room for consideration of two other models outlined in the package.

"What we tried to do was bring those two proposals together in the one that was featured," explained Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus (left), a member of the working group that put together the package during the summer.

The three plans have in common a device designed to accommodate the mix of aboriginal self government and public government.

The second and third models incorporate the convention of representation proportional to population, achieved by the configuration of electoral boundaries.

Cultural constituencies
The one-house model is the only one of the three in the draft package which ascribes to the conventional democratic system of one vote per voter.

It proposes a system of representation based primarily on cultural rather than geographic affiliation.

All seats would be allocated along cultural lines, according to the proportion of the population comprised by each group.

Under this plan "Northerners" (non-aboriginals) would have nine seats, Dene five and Metis and Inuvialuit two each. The house would be divided into aboriginal and Northerner caucuses.

The western territory would be divided into a series of different electoral districts, a set for each cultural group. Elections would consist of four simultaneous, independent elections, with ridings from each overlapping.

"That is total segregation," said Erasmus, adding that the option received little support among members of the working group.

"We have to find a way to bring the two together without separating people like that."

Passage of bills would require agreement of at least 50 per cent of sitting members of the aboriginal and Northerner caucuses.

Two roofs
The second model proposes two separate houses, each with the power to make certain laws independently.

An aboriginal council, composed of representatives of each settlement area, would have exclusive authority over aboriginal matters.

The legislative branch, composed of representatives of ridings structured on proportional representation, would have the power to pass legislation dealing with such things as money bills and issues concerning public lands without the consent of the aboriginal council.

Most legislation would require consent of both houses, but the model leaves open the alternative of a simple majority in a joint sitting.

"I much prefer the two-house system," said Yellowknife South MLA Seamus Henry. "It recognizes the reality of self-government agreements aboriginal people have with the federal government. It allows them to participate in public government and at the same time be responsible for their own jurisdictions."

But the working group didn't agree. "The problem with the two-house model," said Erasmus, "was that it wouldn't allow that much consultation and discussion between the houses.

"Also, aboriginal groups felt that if they couldn't initiate money bills they wouldn't have any power."