Now that the territorial government has set the date of the next election, it’s time to turn to electoral boundaries and the City’s legal challenge, which has been gestating behind closed doors since last October.
Evidently it’s sensitive stuff, not to be shared with voters and taxpayers, so sensitive that councillors who work for the territorial government recused themselves from discussions, as if a leak of the details might upset the case the City’s lawyers will present to the courts this week.*
The issue appears clear enough: Yellowknife has roughly half the territory’s population, but fewer than half the 19 seats in the legislature – a situation that prompted the court to make a correction after the creation of Nunavut.
But it’s blurred by language and culture that also figure into how constituency boundaries are drawn, and the lingering fear that, with more seats, Yellowknife would dominate the legislature and take more than its fair share of the spoils.
Offered a choice of cutting the number of constituencies to 18, keeping the legislature at 19 seats, or adding two seats, MLAs voted two years ago to redraw the boundaries of several constituencies without changing the number of seats.
Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, who lost the Yellowknives Dene communities of Ndilo and Dettah to Tom Beaulieu’s slightly expanded Tu Nedeh constituency, called it the worst possible choice: it did not resolve the representation question and ignored differences in language and culture.
Beaulieu agreed, and voted against the change with Bromley, Daryl Dolynny, Michael Nadli, Wendy Bisaro, and Jackson Lafferty, whose Monfwi constituency would have been split in two in the 21-seat scenario, and Norman Yakeleya, who wanted another MLA for the Sahtu.
Four Yellowknife MLAs, David Ramsay, Bob McLeod, Glen Abernethy and Robert Hawkins voted in support of the redistribution plan with Kevin Menicoche, Frederick Blake, Michael Miltenberger, Robert C. McLeod, Gilbert Bouchard, and Alfred Moses.
Premier McLeod said the territory’s declining population argued strongly for realigning boundaries rather than adding two seats, which Abernethy estimated would cost taxpayers $2.4 million over a single term.
Bromley said today in an email to EDGE that the government’s redistribution plan “failed to deal with the realities of the situation. Particularly in Yellowknife and Monfwi, under-representation is ever-increasing.
“I am not concerned about the cost of another MLA or two, but I also think we have a higher density of MLAs than needed,” Bromley wrote. “Re-distribution can be painful, but we are at a stage where for fair representation, they must be done.”
The City won’t make its proposal known until it files its application with the court later this week, and voters won’t know where they’ll vote in November until there’s a decision from the court. Only one thing is certain: they will pay for all of this.
Bromley told EDGE that voters should remember when they step into the polling booth, that “this Assembly will certainly not go down on record as one that listened closely to the people.”
It remains to be seen if there is any move to adopt a proposal that emerged from the debate in the legislature: decisions on electoral boundaries should be taken out of the legislature entirely and placed in the hands of an independent commission.
*There is no timeline on the filing of the City’s lawsuit.
For even more context on this story, check out Mayor Mark Heyck’s case in writer Mark Rendell’s story from November, shortly after the City decided to pursue legal action: Yellowknifers need to understand the impact of too few MLAS
For a counterpoint, read Aaron Spitzer’s Op-Ed: Why giving YK more MLAs would be the opposite of fair