More NWT splitting headaches
Who's got the constitutional aspirins?

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 08/96) - Two Yellowknife MLAs say the draft constitution is in need of major surgery.

"The main proposal is not acceptable or workable," said Yellowknife MLA Jake Ootes (left) yesterday.

"With the present make-up of the assembly, 10 of 14 members from the West are aboriginal. The reason for that is there is geographic representation.

"After division Yellowknife will make up 40 to 45 per cent of the population, but we will have only one third or one quarter of the votes in the legislature."

The configuration of the electoral boundaries ensures aboriginal voters will have more representation in the assembly than non-aboriginals.

Ootes said he will present an alternative to the working group, one that will be based on the principal of one-man, one-vote and include a companion agreement to ensure aboriginal people's rights are protected.

"Everybody really got hung up on the first model," said Frame Lake MLA Charles Dent yesterday. "I think it was unfortunate the working group didn't present the three models and not put any extra weight on one.

"Personally, I feel the two-house model is a better starting point, though it's still has some warts and lumps to work out."

Though they criticized the model featured in the draft package, both Ootes and Dent agreed the development process is a good one, and one that should continue.

Many who spoke at Tuesday night's public discussion of the draft constitution disagreed, among them the chief coroner of the Northwest Territories.

"I urge members of the assembly to pay some attention to the fact that people are dying," said Jo MacQuarrie.

"If these suicides continue at the rate they're going there won't be anybody to represent in the Eastern or Western Arctic."

Division itself should be the main priority, said Blake Lyons, a Yellowknife alderman.

"Our biggest challenge will be the division of assets with Nunavut," he said.

Lyons added that if the legislature continues to focus its energy on the constitution, "our most crucial issue, the economy, will be forgotten."

Lyons echoed a sentiment expressed by Ootes and others when he referred to federal law that requires 15 MLAs for the NWT.

"I am flabbergasted, that we need one more politician. The working group proposes we go to 22. We're laying off people, cutting services and yet we're increasing the number of politicians?"