Taking it to the streets
Constitutional workbook almost ready for public debate

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 16/98) - The Western Constitutional Working Group wants to gauge public opinion this spring and summer.

During a two-day meeting in Yellowknife recently participants wrapped up debate on a workbook to be distributed for debate on two constitutional approaches.

"I'm pretty satisfied with what's going to go out to the communities now," said Bob Simpson, Gwich'in and Inuvialuit representative on the group.

"I think we're about 90 per cent complete on our job now, so we'll have a new package probably to look at in the next couple of weeks and have our last kick at the can then."

The workbook should go to the printers in April so it's ready for the workshops that will take place throughout the spring.

"What we have been attempting to do from the aboriginal government's perspective was to introduce two types of approaches. One is to try and combine aboriginal government and public government together under one roof, in one form or another. The other approach is to have them separate, maybe have some linkages between them, government-to-government kind of agreement," said Simpson.

The first package last year only presented a combined system of government, and it wasn't well received by the public.

Simpson said once all the workshops are done this summer another package will be produced for a constitutional conference. At that point, the working group will probably choose a model to be put to a public vote in March 1999.

If approved, the group can recommend it to the federal government. If it's rejected, then they will have to go back to the drawing board.

"If people don't want a combined system of government I think we're going to end up with a government-to-government system with aboriginal groups left negotiating. You'll have everybody negotiating land claims and self-government agreements and they'll create their own aboriginal governments and then the public government is going to have to negotiate agreements with them.

When asked if he expects everything to fall in place, Simpson said that he will have to wait until the people speak before 1999.

"I'm optimistic that we will get a clear indication what people want. I think that's what we need or otherwise put it on the back burner for a while until we have more self-government agreements and it might become a little more clear there's a need for a combined system of government or a need to have a very strong government-to-government agreements."