Commentary: A Blueprint for Change in the Northwest Territories?


  • Mark O. Dickerson



Civil servants, Costs, Government, Local government, Self-determination, N.W.T., Nunavut


September 1992 marks the 25th anniversary of moving the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) from Ottawa to Yellowknife. In that time, the growth of the territorial governmental process has been phenomenal. In 1967, most GNWT employees travelled in one plane going to Yellowknife, and the government's budget was about $14 million. Today, there are almost 6000 GNWT employees and the budget is over $1.1 billion. Strength at Two Levels (the Beatty Report) is certainly one of the more interesting and contentious reports commissioned by the GNWT. On the one hand it advocates expanding the powers of local governments in the region - hence, strength at the territorial and local levels of government. At the same time, if implemented, recommendations of the report would undermine part of the GNWT's power base in Yellowknife. The question then is: Will the report become a blueprint for change, or will it be just another document for decentralization, unheeded by Yellowknife? The Beatty Report is about the high cost of government in the Northwest Territories (NWT). ... The Beatty Report is not the only design for change on the table in the North. Since November 1991, the governing of their own lands by the Inuit would certainly necessitate restructuring northern government. In the western Northwest Territories the Commission for Constitutional development issued its report in April 1992, "Working Toward a Common Future." It posed the possibility of a new constitutional process for the new territory, emphasizing the necessity of beginning authority relationships with people and communities. Its design would certainly restructure the governmental process in the NWT. Thus the dominant view circulating in the NWT seems to be that change is required in northern government. Twenty-five years of evolution have created a centralized, cumbersome and expensive territorial government centred in Yellowknife. Many individuals and groups outside Yellowknife want a greater say in the policy-making process. A number of ideas exist about how the present system should be changed. The Beatty Report is one of those ideas, but one upon which the GNWT is relying heavily. Pressures on members of the Legislative Assembly may force the government to incorporate a number of views in its plans for restructuring. But the question remains, will the GNWT actually embark on a process of change, where communities or regions actually have greater decision-making powers? This may be difficult for a government that has built up a great deal of inertia over 25 years.