Hon. James Hugh Faulkner (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development) moved
that Bill C-28, an act to amend the Northwest Territories Act, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief and in this way I hope to set an example which everyone else will feel compelled to follow.
Bill C-28 is a very short bill which contains only two clauses. It is a bill to which, I can say from the government side, we are prepared to put through all three stages today to expedite it. I have made that offer through private channels and I make it today publicly and await to see if it engenders a response from all opposition parties.
As I said, the bill contains two clauses. The First clause would provide the commissioner in council of the Northwest Territories with the power to alter the size of the council by territorial ordinance from 15 to as many as 25 members. This is a power that the Yukon territorial council has had since 1974. My impression is that this amendment would be supported by all members of the existing council. In fact, this particular provision has been the object of a fairly vigorous lobby in Ottawa by members of the council. They have made their concern known to me, and, I think, to hon. members opposite, that in their view this amendment is in the interests of the Northwest Territories and they ask the House of Commons to move on it. That is why I am prepared to move on all three stages of the bill today, if that meets with the support of the House.
The second clause of the bill would validate an ordinance passed by the commissioner in council at its October session in
February 16, 1979
Northwest Territories Act
anticipation that parliament would enact the bill before us today. The council amendment ordinance empowers the commissioner to describe 22 electoral districts upon passage of this bill, an increase of seven over the presently constituted council of 15 members.
The rationale for the bill is straightforward. Apart from the fact that it has the support of the council and many people in the Northwest Territories, I was able to meet with the new mayor of Inuvik in my office and she told me they strongly support it. I understand Chief Johnny Charlie from Fort McPherson made his views known on radio today and said that he supports it.
I know there are some who have misgivings about it, and I suspect the hon. member for the Northwest Territories (Mr. Firth) may want to develop that; but I think on balance it would be fair to say that the council as presently constituted with 15 members is too small to be properly representative of the cultural and geographic differences of the Northwest Territories. I think it is also fair to say that, given the period of time when we are moving in a very substantive way toward a responsible government in the Northwest Territories, there is a great deal of political communication that must be undertaken, and that can probably be undertaken more effectively by a council of 22 members than one of 15, given the land mass with which the members have to deal, the dispersed nature of the population and the cultural differences.
I think I should also point out to the House that 1 have discussed the bill before us with the special representative of the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau), the hon. Mr. Drury. He studied it and he indicated he thinks it constitutes a forward step and he strongly supports it. Obviously it is a move to reinforce the direction in which I think we are all going toward greater autonomy and responsible government, but it does not-this is a point I should like to stress because it is this point that the opposition, namely, those who wish to be cautious on this bill, are stressing-inhibit constitutional options that would be before us and before the Northwest Territories in the future. I think it is important to recognize that.
The final point I would make is the point about urgency. The statutory life of the council will expire on March 31 of this year and an election must be held soon thereafter. It will be conducted by the chief electoral officer of Canada who, of course, would appreciate as much lead time as possible to prepare for this event. I hope, given the general support that exists for the bill, the argument of urgency, and the fact that the bill in no way precludes constitutional options which we will be exploring, that hon. members will see fit to put this bill through all three stages today.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: NORTHWEST TERRITORIES ACT