Former MLA says 2013 merging of Tu Nedhé-Wıı̀lı̀deh 'ignored' communities

·3 min read
Former MLA Tom Beaulieu says that while the commission reviews electoral boundaries, there are lingering problems with a 2013 redrawing of districts. (CBC - image credit)
Former MLA Tom Beaulieu says that while the commission reviews electoral boundaries, there are lingering problems with a 2013 redrawing of districts. (CBC - image credit)

The N.W.T. is reviewing its election boundaries and former Tu Nedhé MLA Tom Beaulieu said it bears repeating that lumping Ndilǫ, Dettah, Łutselk'e and Fort Resolution into a singular electoral district in 2013 was a disservice to the communities' distinct culture, language and concerns.

Beaulieu said at the time that the voices of the four communities "were completely ignored."

"The option of keeping them separate was not on the table at all," said Beaulieu.

The N.W.T. Electoral Boundaries Commission will table its report reviewing the number, size and boundaries of the territory's electoral districts during the May sitting of the legislative assembly.

As politicos share their views on consensus government, Beaulieu is raising concerns about a redrawn boundary which lumped all four communities into one boundary and influenced his decision not to run for re-election.

In 2013, N.W.T. MLAs voted 10 to 7 in favour of keeping 19 seats in the legislature, and combined the Wıı̀lı̀deh constituency with Tu Nedhé.

At the time, Beaulieu and former Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty argued for a 21-seat scenario — saying there was too much work in their regions and not enough seats to handle all community concerns.

Bob Bromley, the MLA for Weledeh from 2007 to 2015, said too that his constituents opposed the change.

Deciding on 19 or 16 seats

GNWT
GNWT

The first option the latest commission has proposed is to keep 19 seats and shift boundaries in Yellowknife, Hay River and Inuvik, add Enterprise to Hay River South, and move Sambaa K'e and Jean Marie River from Nahendeh to Deh Cho.

The second would drop to 16 seats, removing one MLA each from Hay River, Yellowknife and Inuvik and leaving Nunakput, Mackenzie Delta, Sahtu, Monfwi and Tu Nedhé-Wıı̀lı̀deh unchanged.

According to a 2021 interim report produced by the electoral commission, 70 per cent of the territory's population lives in Hay River, Yellowknife, Inuvik and Fort Smith, represented by 12 electoral districts.

Electoral Boundaries Commission
Electoral Boundaries Commission

In 2013, the Electoral Boundaries Commission report argued certain districts, like Tu Nedhé, were over represented, but Beaulieu said allocating MLAs purely based on population size misses the point.

A riding with an average family income well over $160,000 might have thousands of constituents but does not produce the same demands on an MLA serving a community of 700 with half of constituents holding an average family income of $60,000, he said.

Even when the Tu Nedhé constituency only represented Fort Resolution and Łutselk'e, people felt the one MLA they shared between them was very busy, said Beaulieu.

"I don't think there's a whole bunch of people [in high income communities] running after the MLA … the government, because they don't have enough income, proper housing to sustain their families," he said.

One language in the house, one left out

Language and culture is another point of contention. Having one MLA would likely mean Wıı̀lı̀deh Yatıı̀ or Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé (Chipewyan) would be spoken in the legislative assembly, but not both, said Beaulieu.

"You could not have both those cultures and languages represented in the house," he said, because they would have to speak both regional dialects.

The opposition to the merger into one constituency was visible at public meetings, he said.

"People opposed that. I think we had more people in the Dettah meeting than we had in the Yellowknife meeting — they had a vested interest," said Beaulieu.

In Dettah and Ndilǫ, "the chiefs there felt it should be a riding that included Latham Island and Ingraham Trail," because they are part of Akaitcho land resource negotiations.

The only option to keep Łutselk'e and Fort Resolution in one community and another for Ndilǫ and Dettah would have been to add an MLA, said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu said the N.W.T. government looks unfavourably upon adding an MLA but will more easily add five positions within government departments.

The territory has allocated $150,000 for the commission to complete its work.

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