N.W.T. MLAs return to the legislature with long to-do list, clock ticking on election
MLAs will try to pass at least 18 bills in the next two sittings before October's election
Politicians in the Northwest Territories return to the legislature with nearly two dozen pieces of legislation to pass and a looming October election.
The two-week session begins Thursday and runs until early June. It's expected to be the second-to-last session before the Legislative Assembly dissolves for the fall election campaign.
For the government, it's one of its final chances to pass unfinished legislation. Eighteen bills are currently under review, with four more expected to be introduced shortly.
Though a few of these are small tweaks to existing legislation, some of the upcoming bills touch on some of the most important issues facing the Northwest Territories. Those include:
- Changes to the territory's oil and gas regime
- Changes to land use, environmental legislation, and the management of the territory's forests.
- Formally passing the laws to enforce the territory's carbon tax.
- Reforms to the territory's corrections system.
- Introducing domestic violence leave for workers.
Though MLAs have expressed concern at the glut of legislation they're being asked to review, Premier Bob McLeod says he's confident they've had enough time for the work to get done.
"Most of [the bills] have been on the books for four years," he said. "I think we all have a good idea of what's required.
"There seems to be a commitment to work together, even to the extent that [if] we have other [bills] we need to do a little bit of work on, we can see if we can make it happen."
Meanwhile, regular MLAs will make their final pushes to fulfil their own promises to constituents.
"I'm really focusing on issues I've already brought forward," said Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre and caucus chair.
"I'm not interested in introducing new ideas. I think we're running out of time," she said. "It's really trying to see if we can make progress on some of the issues that are outstanding.
"We realize that time is coming up, there is frustration that more hasn't been done," she said.
Green said affordable housing for seniors is one issue that has not been adequately addressed during this assembly. Even though there are new market-housing units set to be built in Yellowknife, there remains a gap between high housing costs in the territory and what seniors can afford.
October election 'elephant in the room'
This session may also see some jockeying for position from MLAs seeking re-election in the fall. This is one of their last chances to get their message out before contenders emerge as the election closes in.
The October election will likely be "the elephant in the room," Green says, with MLAs taking their future election prospects into consideration, even if they haven't publicly declared whether they're running again.
"People will be conscious of that — that they've made a decision — they will want to be seen to do the job," she said.
Four months out from election day, two MLAs have already announced that they will not be running in the fall: Tom Beaulieu, the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh and Robert C. McLeod, the Finance Minister and MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes.
Beaulieu says he too thinks much of this legislation could have come to MLAs earlier.
He expects to use these last two remaining sessions to push for infrastructure projects for his riding. That includes a new health centre in Lutselk'e and a new school in Detah.
But he doesn't think he'll go any further than he has in the past in pressing the government for commitments during question period, even though he will no longer need to work with them after this summer.
"I'm a gentleman," he said. "I have a lot of friends on both sides of the house, I'm certainly not trying to embarrass anyone, my objective has always been to help people.
"Sometimes my frustrations do come out, there's no question about that," he said. "If it needs to, it will, but I'm going to try and take an approach where people understand where I'm coming from."
The final legislative session is set for August and the territorial election is set for Oct. 1.