On June 14, 2017, Margaret Thom was named the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
The Commissioner plays a very important role in the governance of the Northwest Territories. Appointed by the Governor-in-Council of Canada on the recommendation of the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories is the federal government’s representative in the NWT and the Northwest Territories’ Chief Executive Officer.
The position of Commissioner, created by the federal Northwest Territories Act, is equivalent to the role of a Lieutenant Governor in the provinces.
The legislative duties of the Commissioner:
- Swearing-in of the Members of the Legislative Assembly;
- Swearing-in of the Members of the Executive Council under the recommendation of the Members of the Legislative Assembly;
- Appointing Members of the Executive Council to ministerial portfolios on the advice of the Premier;
- Providing assent for bills after they are passed by the Legislative Assembly (Note: A bill must be approved by the Commissioner before it becomes law);
- The reading of the speech to open the sessions of the Legislative Assembly; and
- Signing documents such as orders-in-council, Commissioners’ warrants, statutory appointments, and disposition of Commissioner’s Lands.
The Commissioner also serves as a link between the government and the people. The Commissioner often attends events and performs a ceremonial role as a representative of the Government of Northwest Territories.
History of the Role of the Commissioner
Originally, the Executive consisted of only the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Assistant Commissioner. None were responsible directly to the Legislative Assembly for the conduct of government. The Commissioner was in charge of all Cabinet proceedings.
Increasingly, elected members assumed leadership roles, while the Commissioner’s duties became similar to the role of Lieutenant Governor for the Provinces. During the 10th Legislative Assembly (1983 - 1987), the Government Leader became chairperson of the Executive Council, and the Commissioner no longer attended sittings of the Assembly. All ministerial portfolios were assigned to elected Members.
Although the Commissioner still officially opens each session and provides assent to bills, the role of the Commissioner has become mostly ceremonial.
Legally, the Federal government still has the power to disallow territorial Acts for a period of up to one year after passage and the Commissioner, a civil servant reporting to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, is still the Chief Executive Officer of the Government of Northwest Territories. Although the Commissioner must assent to laws, no territorial Act has ever been disallowed by the Federal Government.