Government buys time
Judge grants 10-day stay while extension considered

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 31/99) - The gun that former premier Don Morin said was pointed at the heads of territorial lawmakers has been set aside -- for at least 10 days .

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Mark de Weerdt extended the suspension of his March 5 ruling in the Friends of Democracy suit by 10 days, until April 10.

De Weerdt had ruled three territorial ridings to be unconstitutional on the grounds of under-representation and had given the government until April 1 to fix the situation. Many aboriginal groups and several MLAs had complained this provided insufficient time.

And while the government decided not to appeal the ruling, it will seek a five-month extension on coming up with legislation to comply with the ruling.

Deputy Justice Minister Don Cooper said Monday a hearing is now scheduled to take place before de Weerdt this morning in which legal counsel for the government, the Friends of Democracy, and an Intervenor party representing the Aboriginal Summit will lay out their arguments for and against an extension.

Meanwhile, legislation in the form of Bill 15 has slowly been making its way through the house and is currently before the Committee on Government Operations.

But Cooper said the government is confident an extension to Sept. 1 will be granted. He said de Weerdt had based his original ruling on a April 4 deadline -- so that legislation would be in place the required six months before a proposed Oct. 4 election.

Cooper said the government's legal counsel has since determined, however, that the next election might be held as late as June, 2000, and that realistically it will take place by March -- before the end of the next fiscal year.

"We have to buy some time to talk about that political solution," said Premier Jim Antoine on Monday. "Hopefully we will get that time Wednesday."

Significantly, Cooper added that Bill 15's formula of adding five MLAs -- three for Yellowknife and one each to Hay River and Inuvik -- may yet change.

"Bill 15 is amendable," he said, "The standing committee could come back and say we recommend three new seats or two new seats or staying with the current proposal of five."

Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes said Monday he feels the political solution many parties have been calling for should already be moving ahead. He said he's doubtful whether a five-month extension is going to make agreeing on a solution any easier.

"It's just a game of wait, wait, wait, and something will crop up to allow them to say this isn't fair," he said. "But I think that's foolish -- we can only wait so long."