The Executive Council
When we speak of the government we usually mean the Executive Council, or Cabinet. Like other forms of government, our parliamentary system has three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. The executive branch proposes laws, the legislative branch approves laws, and the judiciary applies them through the courts. The Cabinet is the executive branch, but because it is made up of the elected members of the Assembly, the executive and legislative branches overlap. The Executive Council is the senior decision-making body of the Government of Northwest Territories and is made up of a Premier and six Ministers, all of whom are elected by all Members of the Legislative Assembly.
The head of government in the Northwest Territories has been referred to as Premier since February of 1994 as a result of an amendment to the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. Before 1980, the head of government was appointed by the Government of Canada and was referred to as the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
The role of Premier includes chairing Cabinet meetings, assigning portfolios to ministers and disciplining ministers. The Premier also develops consensus with other ministers and serves as their spokesperson on matters that do not fall within individual portfolios.
Whether during session of the Legislative Assembly or other times of the year, the Executive Council is responsible for the day-to-day administration of government. In doing so, Ministers work with the whole Caucus, with other Ministers, or as individuals. Throughout the year, they discuss policy, consider new laws, and work on budget estimates. Individually, they are department heads, making sure the laws administered by their departments are enforced.
Administrative department heads, called Deputy Ministers, report directly to the Ministers. It is the Ministers’ responsibility to take the general directions established by the Assembly, develop policies which must be ratified by the Executive Council, make decisions on how the policies are to be put into action and ensure the administration follows through.
Responding to the needs of the public, Ministers introduce legislation relating to their department’s responsibilities. They must answer questions in the Legislative Assembly about their department’s activities and budgets.
The Executive Council has its own internal committees and support branches. There are several special and advisory secretariats for co-ordination and input in areas such as intergovernmental affairs, aboriginal rights and constitutional development, and regional operations.