Where to draw the line
Electoral Boundaries Commission in the Deh Cho

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 18/98) - Judging by the response heard in Fort Simpson, there's a desire to split the Nahendeh riding and its six communities in half.

Nahendeh MLA Jim Antoine was among 10 people who turned out at the Electoral Boundaries Commission hearing Thursday evening. The commission, appointed by the legislative assembly, is gauging public input in regard to the drawing of new electoral boundaries for the western NWT after Nunavut separates in April, 1999.

Antoine, who also attended the hearing in Fort Liard earlier in the day, reiterated that he'd like to see Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River and Wrigley combined in one riding, to retain the Nahendeh name, while Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte and Trout Lake would form their own riding and have their own MLA. That sentiment was echoed by others, including Fort Simpson Mayor Norm Prevost. Antoine said he endorsed such a boundary based on traditional land use areas.

Antoine, who is kept busy with three portfolios, said the logistics of the Nahendeh district make it hard to manage.

"Travel is time consuming and difficult," he said, adding that Seamus Henry, MLA for Yellowknife South, can run around his constituency in roughly half-an-hour.

When Antoine was questioned by a member of the commission about the cost of such a move, he responded by saying that he'd heard new MLAs would require between $200,000-$300,000 each for their salary, expenses and to run their constituency offices. He recommended adding two more MLAs overall -- that would raise the total number of western NWT MLAs from 14 to 16. The commission has been instructed that 25 would be the maximum number of MLAs allowable, should the public request that many.

"To run government effectively, I think you need more bodies," said Antoine. "The goal of a democratic society is to have effective representation."

He also expressed a concern that there were no representatives from Jean Marie River or Wrigley at the Fort Simpson hearing. Similarly, nobody from Trout Lake or Nahanni Butte attended the hearing in Fort Liard. Schuler said members of those communities have the option of submitting their wishes in writing until Sept. 25.

Others present at the hearing expressed concerns about Yellowknife getting more MLAs and consequently having too much power.

There was also a question of whether the commission should be seeking new boundaries when a number of land claims and self-government negotiations are ongoing. Schuler replied that those issues are priorities, but may not be resolved in the near future so the boundaries matter has to be addressed now.

Afterwards, commission member Nick Sibbeston said eight people attended the hearing in Fort Liard and 18 showed up in Fort Providence the previous day. The sparse attendance is indicative of a less than exciting topic and the lack of a "glaring issue," for most people, said Sibbeston.

Although the numbers aren't staggering, he said community leaders are often involved and enough people are present to get a feeling for what each community wants.