NWT residents are being asked for their input on whether to keep a 19-MLA system or reduce the number of MLAs to 16 by removing one in each of Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik.
The two options are set out in a report by the three-member NWT Electoral Boundaries Commission, a group regularly appointed to review whether the territory’s political structure is meeting residents’ needs.
Ultimately, the commission will give current MLAs a set of recommendations about how to change the boundaries between each electoral district.
For now, an interim report asks members of the public to provide feedback on two options. It’s possible neither option will go forward, but they are the two presented by the commission for review.
Both options recommend that Enterprise be added to Hay River South and that Jean Marie River and Saamba K’e be moved from Nahendeh to Deh Cho, providing “more balance” in the Dehcho region and cutting down on travel for the Nahendeh MLA (currently Shane Thompson).
The difference between the two options comes in how urban centres are treated.
The first option proposes to keep the existing urban structure with only minor changes.
Under that option, the boundaries in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik would be moved slightly to even out the population among districts.
Option two instead proposes dropping an MLA in each of those communities.
That would leave Yellowknife with six MLAs, Inuvik with one, and Hay River with one. Fort Smith’s Thebacha district is unchanged in either option.
“It can reasonably be argued that one MLA is sufficient to represent the 3,793 residents of the community of Hay River, and that one MLA is sufficient to represent the 3,399 residents of Inuvik,” the commission’s interim report states.
“In the same vein, a group of six independent elected MLAs ought to be sufficient to effectively represent the interests of the 21,021 residents of the capital city of Yellowknife.”
The commission says the second option provides “a more equitable picture among the urban ridings,” meaning each is closer to the same size than is the case under the first option.
Under option one, the average number of residents per urban seat is 2,577. Under option two, it’s 3,435.
The commission argues that’s still a good ratio of residents to MLAs, pointing to ratios elsewhere in Canada. In Prince Edward Island, the commission states, the ratio is one MLA per 5,915 residents. In Nova Scotia, the ratio is one politician for every 17,802 residents. (In Yukon and Nunavut, however, the ratios are 1:2,219 and 1:1,786 respectively.)
The districts of Nunakput, Mackenzie Delta, Sahtu, Monfwi, and Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh remain unchanged in both of the commission’s proposed options. The commission says those are special cases representing well-defined groups and should not be subject to evaluations of average resident numbers per seat.
While setting out a 16-MLA option in some detail, the commission said the current 19-MLA system remains “fair and reasonable, generally speaking.”
The commission said there is no suggestion more MLAs are needed.
Adding politicians would cost up to $435,000 per MLA per year, with a $110,000 up-front cost, the commission said.
The commission’s members are former minister Glen Abernethy, former judge Ted Richard, and former Hay River mayor Jack Rowe.
Feedback can be provided via the commission’s website.
Recommendations eventually produced by the commission don’t have to be accepted by sitting MLAs. In the past, some commissions’ recommendations have been rejected.