Although the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories does not have the same legislative powers as provincial legislatures, it functions in many ways like one.
The Commissioner, a civil officer, reporting to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, is still the Chief Executive Officer of the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Federal government retains the right to veto territorial Acts for up to one year following passage. Although the Commissioner must assent to laws, the Federal Government has never denied a territorial Act.
Elected members are increasingly taking on leadership roles, and the Commissioner’s responsibilities have become more like those of the Lieutenant Governor for the Provinces. Ministers present bills to the Assembly, which has the authority to approve or reject them. Regular Members may also introduce bills, except those that require the expenditure of public cash.
Legislative Assembly members debate, pass motions, and advise the Executive; they discuss and implement legislation, appropriate monies for various public services, and present petitions on behalf of their people. Members also grill the Executive for information on how well it is carrying out their directives or on other areas of public concern.
Members’ responsibilities include participation in Standing and Special Committees. The Assembly appoints Special Committees to gather information and public input on specific issues or subjects, then report to the Assembly, which debates and either approves or modifies their recommendations. Standing Committees deal with Assembly work that occurs regularly.
During sessions, the Assembly follows traditional parliamentary debating procedures, with minor exceptions to account for northern conditions. The Assembly routinely refers questions to the Committee of the Whole, where they can be discussed in a more informal setting. This is ideal for an Assembly whose members do not represent political parties and decisions are reached through consensus.
Sessions last about 14 weeks out of the year, depending on the work volume to handle. The budget session, held early in the year when Members review the government’s yearly budget, is the longest of the year.
The Legislative Assembly’s facilities in Yellowknife include the Chamber, meeting and caucus rooms, and MLA and staff offices. The Speaker, Chairmen of Committees, and individual MLAs receive professional guidance on parliamentary procedures from the Clerk of the Assembly and their staff. Members can also get help from the Legislative Assembly’s Office in finance and administration, research, and public affairs.
The Legislative Assembly can speak English, French, and nine Indigenous languages from the Northwest Territories, with simultaneous interpretation supplied by experienced language specialists. On a rotating basis, daily performance is offered in four official languages.