Constitutional draft faces drastic changes
October vote off, drawing board beckons, says Koe

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Mar 28/97) - An expected October public vote on a constitutional package for the Western Arctic won't go ahead, says constitutional working group chairman Fred Koe.

Public opposition to the draft constitution package will likely mean a "drastic change" to the document, he said at an Inuvik public consultation meeting earlier this week.

That means timelines previously set have been scuttled.

This may be news to territorial Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Antoine, who told Yellowknifer last week that come October there will be a package and there will be a vote.

Antoine and fellow working group member Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus were not available for comment yesterday and are reported to be "down south."

Koe and three other group members -- Michael Miltenberger, Bob Simpson and David Krutko -- were on hand at Inuvik's second such public meeting, Tuesday night.

"There's no use putting forth a package that has been universally panned," said Miltenberger, who is also the MLA for Thebacha. "It would be a waste of time, and unnecessarily divisive."

Koe said most people who have attended meetings on the draft have been negative about its contents and three concerns have permeated every meeting he has chaired. They are:

  • Timing of document. People have told the committee they don't believe the document should be rushed to meet artificial deadlines, such as the 1999 division of Nunavut.

    "Some say we have a window of opportunity to change the constitution," said Miltenberger. "That's a debatable issue.... If we don't hit the target dates, we will still survive as a territory, and move forward."

  • People want cost-effective and efficient government. They are worried about accepting any new form of government that may be more costly or bureaucratic than the status quo, said Koe.

  • The two-tiered legislature approach. The draft calls for a 22-seat legislature, with eight of those seats set aside for claim groups. The proposal would in effect give aboriginals two votes and non-aboriginals, one. "We've been hearing very little support for that model," said Koe.

Despite the rejection of its proposal, Koe said the goal of the constitution is still to bring aboriginal and public government together under a single house.

Committee members expressed some frustration at the meeting, asking what should be done if this proposal is indeed rejected. "If this package is not the one, and we don't hit the timelines, where do we go from here?" asked Miltenberger.

Krutko cautioned against "throwing the baby out with the bath water." Work on constitutional revision, he said, "has taken years to develop."

Koe said the committee will likely meet again next month to review the comments gathered from the public consultation tour, to see where the process will go from here.

What the new deadline is for constitutional development has yet to be determined, Koe said.

"As has been the history in the North, the sun will rise tomorrow and we will work it out," added Miltenberger.