si-dennis-bevington-110329

'Would the federal government stand around if the Government of the Northwest Territories raised the royalty limit too high?' asks NDP MP Dennis Bevington. (CBC)

The Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic says proposed changes to the Northwest Territories Act will put the federal government even more firmly in control of the Northwest Territories.

Dennis Bevington points to a clause in Bill C-15, or the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, which is now being reviewed by a parliamentary committee.

The clause explicitly allows Ottawa to prevent the passing of any new territorial laws it doesn't like.

Bevington says the federal government could use that authority if the territorial government's views around issues such as development differ sharply from the federal government's.

“In that case you may see the federal government might — seeing that its direction for the Northwest Territories is changing — might intervene with a new government,” Bevington says. “There are issues around resource royalties: would the federal government stand around if the Government of the Northwest Territories raised the royalty limit too high?”

Michael Behiels

Michael Behiels says the federal government will always continue to have ultimate authority.

There's also no requirement for the federal government to justify or even inform the territories of any intent to interfere with territorial government business.

Michael Behiels is a professor of history with the University of Ottawa, and an expert on constitutional issues.

He says the federal government will continue to have ultimate authority, as long as the territory is a creation of a federal law, instead of the constitution.

“Ottawa has full control over the territorial governments and can, under the law and under the constitution, in fact, veto any legislation that those territorial governments pass,” Behiels says. “They are not provinces. They are creatures of the federal government and can be made and unmade by the federal government.”

Behiels says that will remain the case until the territories are recognized in the Canadian constitution, as the provinces are.

But, he says, even in that case, the federal government retains some authority to step in and interfere with provincial business if it wants to.