At the time this article was
written David Hamilton was Clerk of the Northwest Territories Legislative
The public life of Canada's Northwest
Territories is undergoing a dramatic change. The Legislative Assembly has
authorized the design and construction of a permanent Legislative Assembly
Building in which the people of the Northwest Territories will have a focal
point for the pursuit of their common future. The Legislative Assembly building
project entails the ownership, financing, design and operation of the proposed
46,000 square foot facility. It will be located on the Capital Site, a parcel
of land overlooking Frame Lake in the heart of the City of Yellowknife
Representative and responsible
government in Canada's North is not a recent phenomenon. Before the turn of the
century, the old Northwest Territories had government based on two key concepts
of Canadian democracy – representation and responsibility. From 1881 its
Legislative Assembly was fully elected and, from 1897, the Assembly had a
formally constituted Executive Council which was accountable to the Assembly
for the conduct of government.
The old Northwest Territories, which
became part of Canada in 1870, included what is now the Northwest Territories,
Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, most of Manitoba, northern Ontario and northern
Quebec. The Arctic Islands were added in 1880. In 1905, after pressure from the
Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly led the federal government to
establish the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the remaining Northwest
Territories went back to the status of a colony run from Ottawa, as it had been
in the early 1870s.
The Northwest Territories Act had
provided for a four-member appointed council to assist the federally-appointed
Commissioner but no members were named to the council until 1921. All were
federal civil servants living in Ottawa. The Northwest Territories Act was
again amended and six senior civil servants representing federal departments
with an interest in the North were appointed to the council. This council acted
more as an interdepartmental committee than as a legislative body.
Public business was conducted from
Ottawa between 1905 and 1967, when the seat of government moved to Yellowknife.
Even then, the NWT did not enjoy a permanent place of assembly. MLAs spent
years conducting the public business of the Territory in school gymnasia,
banquet halls and other temporary facilities.
By 1970, only four federal
appointees remained on the fourteen-member council. Amendments to the Northwest
Territories Act allowed Council to decide the qualifications of electors and
its Members, to set their indemnities and to develop a separate Consolidated
In 1975, the first fully-elected
Legislative Assembly took office, featuring a majority of Dene, Métis and Inuit
Members. With the welcome return of representative and accountable government
came the challenge of physically accommodating the Assembly, its Members and
the usual range of support services.
For the past 26 years, the
Legislative Assembly has out of necessity operated from temporary and leased
premises. The public business of the NWT was conducted in Yellowknife and across
the NWT in schools, banquet halls, hotels and other facilities.
The people of the NWT were, in
effect, tenants in their own home.
At the same time, the demands upon
Members of the Legislative Assembly, the responsibilities transferred from
Ottawa and even the number of MLAs within the Assembly increased considerably.
It became clear that a solution was required to the costly, time-consuming and
temporarily arrangements for housing the Assembly and its support services.
In January 1990, the 24 elected MLAs,
acting in the interest of the community, agreed that the people of the NWT
required a permanent Legislative Assembly building to replace the temporary
facilities that had been outgrown. The Legislative Assembly building project
entails the design, financing, construction, ownership and operation of the
future permanent home of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.
Completion of the facility is
scheduled for occupancy in the fall of 1993. The project is designed to reflect
the unique interests and diverse population of the NWT and to encourage the
participation of as many citizens as possible. These objectives are pursued in
the following ways:
First, the project was initiated in
the name and on behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories by their
elected representatives. This new place of assembly will reflect the vision and
needs of the members of the Legislative Assembly itself. The Government of the
NWT is neither a force behind nor a beneficiary of the project as the new building
will not house any of the departments or other operations of government.
Instead, it is intended to enable MLAs to carry out their legislative duties
and to efficiently and effectively represent their constituents.
Second, the building will
accommodate the offices and services required for the proper functioning of the
Assembly and the ongoing contact between MLAs, constituents, organizations and
the people of the Northwest Territories. An extensive needs analysis has been
undertaken to determine the particular services and facilities to be
incorporated into the Legislative Assembly building.
Third, the financing of the
building is designed to encourage the active involvement of people and
organizations throughout the North. The Legislative Assembly reviewed a number
of financing options as part of its deliberations. The Assembly selected and
authorized a lease-to-own program. The building will be financed through a 20
year conventional mortgage. In addition, investors throughout the NWT have the
exclusive opportunity to participate in the project through the purchase of
bonds offering very attractive rates of return. This is designed to spread the
financial cost of the facility over a considerable period of time. It also
ensures that the people of the NWT will end up owning an asset in the form of
the new building as opposed to continuing to pay rent without any tangible
return. At the end of the 20 year lease period, ownership of the building will
be transferred to the Assembly.
Fourth, individuals, groups and
businesses throughout the Territory will have an additional opportunity to
become involved in this unique and exciting project through the purchase of
memberships in a Building Society established for this project. This
organization was formed on June 15, 1990 to finance the design and construction
of the project and provide ownership of the building throughout the 20 year
lease period. There are four categories of membership in the society: life
membership throughout the entire project; general membership which may be
renewed on an annual basis; group membership suitable for school classrooms,
youth and other organizations; and, associate membership available to
non-residents of the NWT. Members in the society will have the opportunity to
be advised of the progress made throughout the life of the project and will be
eligible to attend and participate in the annual meeting(s) of the society
The founding members and initial
board of directors of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building
Society represent a distinguished and broad base of support for the building
project. They also bring a range of experiences and credentials to their
responsibilities. John Parker, former Commissioner of the NWT, serves as the
Chairman and permanent appointee of the Legislative Assembly to the Board of
the Society. The range of Northerner and Northern organizations represented on
the board include native Dene, Inuit and Metis development companies,
cooperatives, other corporations, former senior members of the Territorial
public service and Government agencies.
Fifth, the design of, and materials
used to build, this special facility will reflect the land and both the unity
and diversity of the people who will benefit from this permanent place of
assembly. Extensive research and consultations have been conducted to ensure
that the design and construction of the building will reflect the land and
serve the people of the NWT in the best possible manner.