Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker and my colleagues. Mr. Speaker, the Constitutional Working Group publicly released the document, Partners in a New Beginning in October, 1996. The document includes ideas on how a western territory could govern itself following division in 1999. The Constitutional Working Group is a partnership including representatives from the Aboriginal Summit, and representatives of the Western Caucus of the NWT Legislative Assembly. The western MLA's on the working group represent all western NWT residents, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. I co-chair the Constitutional Working Group with Mr. George Kurszewski of the Aboriginal Summit.
Since the release of the Partners document the Constitutional Working Group has consulted with the general public and federal government on the proposed models for a new government structure for the western NWT after division. At the most recent meeting of the working group, which was held on May 14th and 15th, Members reviewed and discussed the results of the initial round of formal public consultations. In direct response to comments and suggestions raised by the public, the Constitutional Working Group has made a number of decisions on the timing and process for constitutional change, including how the Constitutional Working Group operates.
Successfully carrying out many of these decisions will depend on securing long term federal and territorial financial support. The Constitutional Working Group will be seeking a meeting with the new Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs as soon as possible after the federal election to secure political and financial support from the federal government. More specifically, the Constitutional Working Group has agreed that:
- The October 1997 plebiscite on a western constitutional package will be rescheduled to a later date;
- April 1, 1999 should be set as a goal, not a deadline for sending a ratified constitutional package to the federal government. Residents must not be rushed into making decisions on the constitutional package before they are ready;
- A second formal round of consultations will take place in late fall and early winter of 1997 and 1998;
- Future consultations will involve both formal meetings and less formal workshops with individuals and organizations in the communities and regions;
- Constitutional Working Group members will play a more prominent role in the second round of consultations. Members will participate in more community meetings and assist the public in understanding the rationale behind the revised package;
- Information provided prior to the second round of consultations will include more options on a new western government;
- The options will continue to take into account concerns which have been expressed by the federal government;
- A constitutional conference will be planned for the spring of 1998 to allow western leaders and community representatives to review a revised Partners' document; and
- Future meetings of the Constitutional Working Group will be open to the public.
Decisions on the timing of a plebiscite to put the final constitutional package to the people will be made at a later date, in consultation with residents of the western NWT, the Aboriginal Summit and the federal government.
Mr. Speaker, the Constitutional Working Group has heard and responded to the various suggestions brought forward by residents during the initial round of public consultation. These suggestions relate to how the Constitutional Working Group operates and the constitutional proposals prepared for public consideration.
The working group meeting on May 14th and 15th also addressed the companion self-government agreement which is a key element of the western constitutional package. The Aboriginal Summit will continue to play the lead role in developing the companion agreement while the Constitutional Working Group remains responsible for developing a revised Northwest Territories Act which is the other key element of the package.
On an administrative note, I wish to announce that Mr. Fred Koe, who has served as the executive director of the working group, has asked to step down to focus his attention on his duties as the chair of the Workers' Compensation Board. Understanding the importance of maintaining a dedicated focus on the constitutional initiative, the working group is pleased to announce that Mr. Steve Iveson will take over the Constitutional Working Group's executive director position. Mr. Iveson is on loan to the working group from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and brings tremendous experience and energy to the position. I wish to express the appreciation of the Constitutional Working Group to our former executive director, Mr. Fred Koe.
We have listened to the people and commit to involving interested residents of the Western Territory in the shaping of their new government after division. We must work together to shape a government which addresses the needs of all stakeholders in the North. The Constitutional Working Group is working to achieve this objective. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.