Differences from Provincial Governments

The main difference between a Province and a Territory has to do with the Canadian Constitution. The Territories are not included in the amending formula used to change Canada’s constitution, only the Parliament of Canada and the provinces are.  This means that the Territorial Governments are not protected by the constitution.  The Constitution Act of 1982 granted each province the power to amend its own constitution. The constitution of the Northwest Territories is the Northwest Territories Act, which is a federal statute.  Therefore, only the Parliament of Canada has the right to amend the provisions of the Act, and amend the constitution of the Northwest Territories.

It used to be that the responsibilities for resource management and other economic and social contributors in the Northwest Territories fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.  However, in 2015, the NWT underwent “devolution”, and the Federal Government transferred these responsibilities to the Territory. This gave the NWT the ability to conduct its own affairs, much like the ability of a province.

What has not changed since devolution are the economic, social, and demographic realities that are associated with an immense geographic area with a small population.  The Territories account for approximately 40 percent of Canada’s land mass, but are home to less than 150,000 people, or 0.4 percent of Canada’s population.  As a result, the financial resources of the Territories differ from the Provinces in the form of the Territorial Formula Financing Transfer Program. This formula allows residents of the Territories access to public services similar to those offered by the provinces at a comparable level of taxation.  

In summary, the 2 reasons that differentiate a Territory from a province are:

  • A large Geographic Area with a relatively small population; and
  • Federal Acts that control the existence and powers of local governments.

There are several other areas in which the power of the territories is not the same as that of the provinces. A province is allowed to borrow money solely on credit, while the NWT’s power to borrow is subject to the approval of the Governor-in-Council. As well, the power of the territories to incorporate companies is restricted so that certain companies, such as those in the telephone or air transportation business, cannot be incorporated under a Territorial Act.  Another difference between the provinces and the Northwest Territories is the style of Government. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut practice Consensus Government, while Yukon and the provinces run on a political party system.

Should the Northwest Territories wish to pursue provincial status, it will be necessary to amend the Constitution of Canada.  This will require consent of the Parliament of Canada and a double majority from the provinces – seven of ten provinces with at least 50 percent of the population of Canada.