This is page numbers 91 - 116 of the Hansard for the 13th Assembly, 7th Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

Page 107

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you. To the motion. Mr. Miltenberger.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Michael Miltenberger Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this issue is clearly far more than numbers. This is a very significant political issue. It is based, on a large part, on a perception of communities outside of Yellowknife. The perception that for the last 32 years have evolved, where we have all witnessed an almost constant growth in our capital while most of our communities have struggled to, in fact, maintain their levels of service and even to just exist. It is seen as a grab for more political power by the centre when after 100 years, the aboriginal people are still struggling for their rightful place in Canada and in the north. When you combine this history with some of the more symbolic, smaller but equally important things, it makes you wonder. The Friends of Democracy come out with a button. What is it? It is a great big white button with a little red flag on it. I am not sure what the message was but to the people I talked to, I think it was a very serious symbolic cause of concern. Combine that with references by at least one of the members of this group, to ethnic cleansing and add that fact that they are trying to block an extension of time, trying to force this Legislature to either make a decision or cease to function.

It seems to me the people outside of Yellowknife are worried. They are worried because of history, they are worried because of what has happened around this to this date. All parties say we need a political solution, but a political solution requires time. I agree with what my colleague from Tu Nedhe has said. It is not reasonable to expect something of this nature and complexity to be resolved in 26 days. My colleague from the Sahtu who normally flits in and out of meetings like a hummingbird, came up with a fine suggestion that we should lock ourselves away for three days or however many days it takes, the leadership here and the leadership of the Aboriginal Summit to talk this through, to come to a solution. I think that is the kind of step that is going to be required here.

I agree that the judgement, in my opinion, was fundamentally flawed. I do not think the court by requiring unreasonable, totally unreasonable time frames, and then say they are going to bring a government to its knees, can do that to a duly-elected Legislature of this land.

There is no reasonable amount of time, Mr. Speaker. This alone, to me is a basis for appeal. The appeal would also be a political investment. We have talked from day one about partnerships, working with the aboriginal governments, to deal with revenue-sharing, royalties, moving ahead on a constitution. Yet, on this particular issue, where they have tried to work with us, we have consistently ignored the position that they have taken. Not only have we consistently ignored it in this case, we are coming up not with a minimum that would be required to meet the judgement of Judge de Weerdt, but the maximum, 19 seats.

Mr. Speaker, it is understandable in my mind, of the concern and the frustration and the anger of the aboriginal leaders. What exactly is going on? How serious are we about moving ahead with them when on this particular fundamental issue, we have ignored them.

Mr. Speaker, as we sit here debating this motion and later the second reading for a bill for 19 seats, we have to keep in mind the need to resolve this issue. That requires time. In this Assembly we have talked the talk for a long time about wanting to work in partnership with the aboriginal governments. We have the opportunity to appeal, I believe there are grounds to appeal. Now, that we have talked the talk, I think we should walk the walk, appeal this, let the courts say if they are going to give us a stay or not, but in the very least, we will have had the courage of our convictions to say that we have tried to work this out.

If, in fact, a government of this land can be brought down on the basis of this judgement, then I would say as a Northwest Territories, we are in very big trouble. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

--Applause

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you. To the motion. Mr. Steen.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Vince Steen Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I have been asked to support this motion, I have also been asked to oppose the motion. Mr. Speaker, I am going to have to make my decision based on a number of facts here that I feel are relevant to the situation.

Mr. Speaker, I have been under an impression for awhile, ever since the court case, that this government really does not have grounds for an appeal. Therefore, I could not support a motion to appeal. On the other hand, Mr. Speaker, I look at who took part in the court case, the Friends of Democracy and the Aboriginal Summit. I note that the Aboriginal Summit did not consist at that time of any Inuvialuit group, namely the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

Mr. Speaker, I do not claim to represent the Inuvialuit Corporation here, but I represent the 95 percent of my population in my riding that is Inuvialuit. Therefore, I must take into consideration what did the Inuvialuit do in this particular situation. What part did they take part in, if at all, in the issue? Since they did not take part as intervenors in the court case, it can be assumed that they will not take part in the appeal, so I do not feel pressured that my original group would be affected strongly by whether an appeal goes forward or not.

I have not been receiving any indication from my riding to either appeal or not to appeal, therefore I look at it that I do not have justification to prevent an appeal. I am under no pressure to prevent an appeal, if it will, in fact, benefit the aboriginal group to appeal, then it stands to reason that it will benefit my riding as well. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, what I intend to do is let the votes decide the issue. If there is a number of votes in favour and the motion passes, then there is going to be an appeal. If the motion does not have the support, it is not going to be because I am not passing my support on. I intend to abstain, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

--Applause

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

To the motion. Mr. Erasmus.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Roy Erasmus Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will be voting in favour of this motion. Mr. Speaker, I have had a very difficult time dealing with this issue. Last night we had a little gathering at my house to welcome my brother, George back to the north. It was a good time to have everybody around. Nobody talked about this issue. No pressure was put on me, but, Mr. Speaker, people say that things happen for a reason. I sat there and I looked at my family, at my brother who has been working for aboriginal rights for all of his adult life and I realized I had to do what was right and not what would probably be best for me.

Mr. Speaker, this issue is more than about seats for Yellowknife. It is more than about seats for Inuvik and Hay River. It is about how rights are interpreted, our aboriginal rights, treaty rights are interpreted. I am very disturbed that the Cabinet has decided not to discuss this issue, not to vote. This is a very, very important issue. Mr. Speaker, I am an MLA, I am also a northerner. I was born and raised in Yellowknife. At the same time I am still a lawyer, I pay my dues every year as a non-practicing lawyer. I have read this case. Justice de Weerdt has said he remains unpersuaded that section 3 of the Charter is in any sense to be understood as qualified by section 25 of the Charter or section 35 of the Constitution Act. It is entirely unacceptable that such a fundamental right of citizenship is not recognized and guaranteed in section 3 of the Charter, should be held in suspense and thus be withheld during government negotiations.

Mr. Speaker, I have here a 50 page document that I wrote, researched specifically on the Charter. There are many cases and professors' works that are cited here, Supreme Court cases, Court of Appeal cases. This was written in 1990. Case law has developed even further making those rights even stronger. What the law says is that section 25 shields aboriginal and community rights from guarantees in the Charter from section 3. Section 25 does not deprive anyone's rights, it simply shields collective rights from individual rights. Mr. Speaker, I know that some people will see this as a vote against Yellowknife, but this goes well beyond seats for Yellowknife. It is all about how aboriginal and treaty rights are interpreted.

The Supreme Court of Canada says that you have to read the Charter as a whole, not clause by clause. We cannot allow Justice de Weerdt's ruling that section 3 not be qualified by section 25 to stand. Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court of Canada says that you must read section 3 in light of section 25. I cannot stand by to allow future issues to be resolved on the basis that section 3 rights are super rights that prevail over section 25. Mr. Speaker, I am voting in favour of getting a second opinion from a higher court on important legal issues. We need to know what the rights are in both instances. Both instances, we cannot deprive people of their right to vote, however, we also have to look at aboriginal rights properly; how they are interpreted. We do that by looking at section 3, section 25 and section 35 together. That is how you find out what those rights are. That is why we have to appeal, not because of who is going to get seats and who will not get seats, but to ensure that rights are interpreted properly.

Incidentally, if Friends of Democracy are so sure that their decision is right, they should welcome an appeal because it will simply verify that they are right and that the intervenors are wrong. If they are correct. Mr. Speaker, so what is the effect of the appeal? In my view, it will clarify the rights of both the aboriginal people as well as the individual right to vote. It will help to ensure that rights are properly interpreted in the future. The worst that will happen is a delay. I have been hearing here that we need more time. Any way you look at it we do need a delay. Things are too rushed. We cannot even split Yellowknife properly, Mr. Speaker. We are going to seven seats in Yellowknife. We cannot split it properly because of the way Elections Canada enumerated it. Yellowknife North would now include a new area in the downtown of Yellowknife. Yellowknife North cannot be kept as a whole even though we have enough people in there for two constituencies almost. That is ridiculous.

Mr. Speaker, additionally this government has a duty to consult with the people in the NWT when they are redrawing boundaries. With the aboriginal people, they have an aboriginal right that is constitutionally protected that says they must be consulted. The April 1st deadline does not allow that. It does not allow time for public hearings. Once this bill goes into committee, the committee cannot deal with it properly in such a short time frame. I would submit that even this short time frame alone suggests a need to appeal.

Mr. Speaker, I will be running again in the next election and I am sure some people who intend to run against me will be happy because of the way I am voting. They will think it will hurt my chances of re-election. It probably will hurt me. Mr. Speaker, when I was elected on November 17, 1995, I swore an Oath of Office - I, Roy Erasmus, do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my skill and knowledge execute the powers and trust reposed in me as a Member of the Northwest Territories council.

Trust reposed in me, Mr. Speaker, that means my constituents trust me to do what is right, all of my constituents. That means I have to put my personal ambitions aside to do what is right for my constituents. I have a great deal of aboriginal people in Yellowknife North and, in the western NWT about half of them are aboriginal and in the current NWT there is even more. Mr. Speaker, it is essential that all of those peoples' rights are interpreted properly. Just as it is important for other non-aboriginal peoples' rights to be interpreted properly. I cannot, in good conscience allow this decision to stand. If it means that people will hold it against me, if it means that people vote me out, so be it.

A little over three years ago when I was campaigning I said when a difficult issue came up, I would look at both sides of the issue and I would do what I think is right. I did not say I would do what is good for Roy Erasmus. Mr. Speaker, I have looked at this issue, I have reread my 50 page document that I wrote several years ago. I have looked at my oath and I have to vote in favour of this motion. I have to vote to ensure that the rights of the people, all of the people of the Northwest Territories are interpreted properly. Thank you.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

Page 109

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

To the motion. Mr. Antoine.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Jim Antoine Nahendeh

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise Members that Cabinet will abstain from voting on the honourable Member from Tu Nedhe, Mr. Morin's motion. I would like, however, to raise a couple of points for information of Members. Mr. Speaker, the government has chosen not to appeal the court's decision because the government has no basis to appeal on the merit of the judgement. However, we have concerns over the time frames.

We do not believe that the Northwest Territories benefits, that the courts should be deciding our constitutional future. We need to find a political solution involving all our leaders and hope to have a strong, unified territory shared by residents of the Northwest Territories. The debate has taken place over the last few months. It is not only about electoral boundaries. We believe the time that would be required for an appeal would be better spent trying to resolve the larger issues of shaping a new, strong Western Territory that reflects all our interests. Mr. Speaker, this is not to say that we would not support the rights of other parties to appeal the merits of the court decision. Mr. Speaker, we have indicated that we would support the right of parties to appeal the decision. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the course of action that we are proposing does not preclude a future appeal by the parties if in the end that is considered necessary or appropriate.

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my statement earlier today, we believe the limited time frame set out in a court decision is an impediment in finding a western solution to the constitutional issue. The government is taking the necessary step to ask the courts to extend the April 1st deadline. We are committed to using the extension, if it is granted, to work with the western leaders to find a solution. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

--Applause

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

To the motion. Mrs. Groenewegen.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Jane Groenewegen Hay River

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this is indeed a very difficult situation we find ourselves in. There are some decisions that we are called upon to make, as leaders, which, as Mr. Erasmus said, supersede and surpass any personal community or regional ambition. Each one of us, I hope, will do what they truly believe is the right thing. A motion has been introduced to ask the government to appeal the decision of Justice de Weerdt regarding the representation of northerners in our public government. The judge has ruled, and a court order has resulted, making it incumbent upon us to address an issue of fair representation of constituents in some ridings. This ruling, as it has already been mentioned, was made by a very learned northern justice with many years of experience and knowledge of the north and its people.

Fair representation in our public government is a constitutional right of every citizen in this country under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Unlike my colleague from Yellowknife North, I am not a lawyer and I do not claim to understand all of the issues with regard to that Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As leaders, we are confronted with the proposition that by upholding the right of fair representation to one area, that we will be infringing on the rights of another community of northerners. That this ruling negatively impacts treaty and the inherent right of self-government by aboriginal First Nations is the argument that is made. It is an argument that was put forward to the courts before this decision was made.

This government, to my understanding, in fact, has little effect on the treaties which are currently being negotiated. These are treaties with the federal government, and apart from acting in a support role, it has always been my understanding that this government has little say in the outcome of these negotiations. Thankfully, as of late, there has been some significant progress in a number of these tables over the recent months, and this is very encouraging to everyone. The motion before us today is asking this government to appeal the ruling of the court. I am not sure what new arguments could be brought to the table, but if there are any, I am hopeful and believe that they can be very capably brought forward by the aboriginal intervenors and their legal counsel. This government has rightly offered to support that process, and I also support that move by our government.

In the meantime, we have been advised that we, as a government, do not have any grounds to appeal this ruling. For that reason, it is important to act, what I consider to be responsibly, and to somehow respond to this court's ruling. To that end, legislation has been drafted and has received first reading in this House that would address the issues of representation in the ridings deemed to be unconstitutional because of under-representation.

Mr. Speaker, personally the status quo worked for me. As I already said, this is not about me, it is not about my riding. It is about the rights of constituents to be fairly represented. I supported the stand that 14 Members were sufficient after the boundaries commission, and when it was a political decision, that was the decision of this House. But now, it has become a legal question and yes, as Mr. Morin said, we do have a gun to our heads because it is a legal question. In some ways, I feel that we are partly responsible for that pressure because myself, along with other members of this House, voted against essentially, the recommendation of the boundaries commission and stayed with 14 Members even though we knew, at the time, from our legal advice, that this decision would probably not withstand a court challenge. A court challenge came and, in fact, it would appear that, for now it was successful.

I also want to say that Friends of Democracy had the right to appeal to the courts as any citizen in this country has. The court agreed with them and now we, as a government, are forced to respond to that ruling. The real solution to this question could and should have been addressed through political and constitutional channels. In spite of 20 years of dialogue on constitutional development in the west, the process was stalled mostly, I feel, by the lack of progress, of self-government and land claim discussions between aboriginal groups and Ottawa. I think we do have to put some responsibility on the federal government for that lack of progress. Now, as I said, we are seeing progress on that front and this will hopefully assist in arriving at things in the west such as political and economic accords. In the meantime, I feel confident that these representation issues could be addressed for now by complying with the judge's ruling and the subsequent appeal by the aboriginal summit.

When you look at the history of the electoral boundaries, there is really nothing sacred about the existing boundaries. Since the eighth council, which started in March, 1975, the only two assemblies which shared the same electoral boundaries during that whole period of time in 24 years were the 12th and 13th Assemblies. All the rest, there were variations in the boundaries and in the name of the ridings and so on. I try to look at the fibre of people, what they stand for, what virtues they possess such as integrity and fairness. When I look at our northern leaders in and outside of this House, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, for the most part, I am very reassured by what I see. As indicated by Premier Antoine today, let us not throw away the trust and respect that we have achieved by falling prey to the temptation to substitute rhetoric for reason.

What makes us different from each other is so little compared to what we share in common as northerners. I truly believe that all the Members of this House effectively and honourably represent their constituencies with fairness. Those constituencies, including mine, are made up of aboriginal and non-aboriginal constituents. We are all here for the long haul, so it behooves us to live well together, rural and urban, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. Although, I cannot support the appeal of the court's ruling, Mr. Speaker, I want to make it very clear that I do support the appeal by the Aboriginal Summit, and I will continue to support the ongoing dialogue on all issues facing our territory and will do so in the spirit of, as our prayer says, bringing peace and justice to our land. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

--Applause

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you. To the motion. Mr. Henry.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Seamus Henry Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will also add a little history to this particular topic. Mr. Speaker, Members of this House ordered the formation of an electoral boundaries commission. This commission was made up by Ms. Schuler, a judge of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, Ms. Kuptana, an active community leader from Tuktoyaktuk, and Mr. Nick Sibbeston, a former government leader of this House, Mr. Speaker. The report presented to this House recommended that two new seats be added to this Legislature, and it happened that they were in Yellowknife. That report was rejected by this House. A result of our inability to deal with this report fairly spurred the creation of a group calling themselves Friends of Democracy. Mr. Speaker, this group launched an appeal of the decision of this Legislative Assembly in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. The result of that appeal in the Supreme Court had Mr. Justice Mark de Weerdt render his decision that three seats of this Legislature do not have adequate representation. Mr. Speaker, I cannot support the motion of the Member from Tu Nedhe as I firmly believe that one of the basic principals of democracy, which is guaranteed to each and every person living in Canada, has a right to be represented fairly in their Legislature. The passage of Bill 15 will ensure that. It has been pointed out that some aboriginal leaders are opposed to this report.

At this time, I would like to recognize those aboriginal leaders who, I believe, have had the foresight and the ability to look at the big picture and have been able to embrace the democratic right of equal representation to all citizens of the Northwest Territories. Those leaders, for example, Mr. Speaker, are a former leader of this government, Mr. Richard Nerysoo, the chief of the Yellowknife Band, Mr. Jonas Sangris, my colleague, Mr. Steen, my colleague Mr. Kakfwi. These are some of the leaders who I listen to. They are not scared of democracy. They are not scared of all people in the NWT having an equal voice in their legislature.

We are asked to vote on fairness. As an example, Mr. Speaker, when the Member from Tu Nedhe takes the position for the people he represents in this Legislature, he votes accordingly. Each of his constituents represents approximately nine to one of my constituency. Is that fair representation? No, Mr. Speaker, it is not. What has been proposed to correct this fairness? The introduction of Bill 15 has been the response of this government to correct the unfairness. When Bill 15 passes, the residents of Tu Nedhe will still be well represented in this House, as will the residents of my constituency, Mr. Speaker, and indeed all residents of the Northwest Territories. Residents of our new territory will then be receiving fair representation as entitled and due under the constitution of our country. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

To the motion. Mr. Ootes.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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Jake Ootes Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My comments will be brief. I think the subject has been discussed thoroughly in this chamber, as well as outside this chamber in our committee meetings. It is an issue that is difficult. It is very, very difficult for many Members to address because it does affect the territories in many ways. I had the opportunity to sit through the court case, Mr. Speaker, and to listen to many of the presentations and the arguments in respect to the charter.

First of all, in regard to the court case, I would like to state that we had a judge who was very, very knowledgeable with regard to northern issues. He has served in the Northwest Territories for many years, some 20,30 years. I do believe he understands the issues here in the north. I do believe in the court case he did hear about all the issues, and he asked those representing the territorial government and the Aboriginal Summit for more information so that he could make a just ruling. He continually impressed upon those representatives to bring that forward. He dealt with extensive submissions by the lawyers, both the NWT and the intervenors, and he reviewed piles and piles of documents.

Now coming to my situation, Mr. Speaker, I have had and been part of the review and the submissions and comments whereby we ask the government's lawyers about a possibility of an appeal. My interpretation was that there is no basis for an appeal by this government. For that reason, I will be voting against the motion. I hope, Mr. Speaker, whichever way this goes and I am sure of all our Members' good intent here, that we will continue our dialogue between all of us so that we move on after this matter is settled, in whatever way it is settled, for the future of all our people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion: 5-13(7): Appeal Of Supreme Court Decision On Electoral Boundaries
Item 16: Motions

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you. To the motion. Mr. Rabesca.