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5 things to know about the latest N.W.T. legislature sitting

Members of the N.W.T. legislative assembly will be back in session today for the first time since the assembly last wrapped on March 12. Here are five things you should keep in mind about this spring’s sitting.
Regular MLAs, from left, Jane Groenewegen, Daryl Dolynny, Robert Bouchard, Michael Nadli, Robert Hawkins, Wendy Bisaro, Alfred Moses and Bob Bromley attend a session of the Northwest Territories legislative assembly last fall. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Members of the N.W.T. legislative assembly will be back in session today for the first time since the assembly last wrapped on March 12. Here are five things you should keep in mind about this spring's sitting. 

1. It's not the last sitting before the election

It's the second-to-last, and will run from today to June 4 — a relatively brisk sitting before a lengthy summer break.

The last sitting will also be short, running from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, and then that's it for the 17th assembly.

2. Election fever is about to ramp up

In April, the N.W.T. government officially pushed the date of the territorial election to Nov. 23 from Oct. 5 (where it was seen to potentially conflict with an expected fall federal election.) 

Several currently-serving MLAs have already announced their intention to run again, while the plans of other MLAs — such as Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger — remain unknown.

It will be interesting to track the statements of MLAs with election designs. Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake, Jr., who spoke little during this assembly's initial years and plans to run for re-election, has grown increasingly more vocal about issues like infrastructure in the past six months. Meanwhile, ever-voluble Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who also plans to run again, said in April that he supports the practice of hydraulic fracturing in his region.

Infrastructure projects such as an all-weather road from Wrigley to Tulita or an all-weather road to the territory's diamond mines will likely get increased lip service now that the federal government has increased the territory's borrowing limit by $500 million to $1.3 billion.

3. The clock is ticking on those N.W.T. fracking regulations

The territorial government is holding a series of public engagement sessions in several communities about N.W.T-made regulations for the controversial resource-extraction process. Unsurprisingly, many sessions saw the debate turn to whether the territory should even let the practice happen at all, with some residents calling for an all-out ban.

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro says the timeline to have fracking regulations approved by the fall is a touch ambitious. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

The government has said it would like cabinet to approve the regulations by the fall. Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro says that timeline is a touch ambitious.

"I appreciate that the government is trying to sort of put the regulations out there and put some controls on how fracking is going to occur. But I think there's an awful lot of people who don't yet agree with the fact that we should be fracking. And we need to have this discussion," she says.

Meanwhile, opposition to fracking is showing no signs of letting up: supporters of a petition calling for a moratorium on fracking say they plan to march from the Yellowknife post office to the legislative assembly building on June 2, the third-last day of this sitting. The government's engagement tour is expected to resume that day in Colville Lake and wrap up in Yellowknife on June 15 and 16.

4. There's other unfinished business

Some hoped-for legislation has already been kiboshed. For example: Last fall regular MLAs voted in favour of an ombudsman's office. But in February cabinet responded by saying there was not enough time in this assembly to craft the legislation. It also said that finding annual funding for the office (estimated at $400,000 to $600,000 a year) would be a challenge. The result? The ombudsman initiative was effectively punted off to the next assembly.

But MLAs still hope to pass some previously-mentioned bills during the waning days of this assembly, including the new Financial Administration Act. One of the key changes proposed in the bill, which has only undergone two of its three required readings, would see MLAs debate and vote on all short- and long-term borrowing, every year, in the assembly. The bill would also ensure that the borrowing plan is attached to every year's main estimates and, more importantly, ensure the plan is tabled — i.e. shared with the public.

Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard says he supports the change.

"I think having that discussion in the public is an open, transparent process," he says.

5. Expect some surprises

Bisaro says she expects "quite a few" new bills to be introduced in the house in the next two sittings. When asked what kind of new bills the public can expect, Bisaro quipped, "I can't tell you or I'd have to shoot you." (Bills are not made public until they undergo first reading.)

The next sitting may also bring some news about the hoped-for implementation of 911 service in the territory: MLAs will receive a briefing on the issue Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the legislative assembly. The briefing is open to the public, too.

Follow @gq_in_yk for the latest N.W.T. legislative assembly news.

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