Although the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories does not have the same legislative powers as the Assemblies of the provinces, it acts, in most respects, as a provincial legislature.
Legally, the Federal government still has 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 the Northwest Territories. Although the Commissioner must assent to laws, no territorial Act has ever been disallowed by the Federal Government.
Increasingly, elected members have assumed a leadership role, while the Commissioner’s duties have become similar to the role of Lieutenant Governor for the Provinces. Ministers introduce bills and the Assembly has the power to approve or reject legislation. Regular Members may also introduce bills, excluding bills that necessitate an expense of public funds.
Members of the Legislative Assembly debate, pass motions, and advise the Executive; they discuss and enact legislation, approve funds for various public services and present petitions on behalf of their constituents. Members also question the Executive to obtain information on its progress in carrying out their direction or on other matters of public interest.
Standing and Special Committee activities have become a major part of Members’ responsibilities. Special Committees are set up by the Assembly to gather information and public input on particular issues or subjects and report to the Assembly, which then debates and either adopts or changes their recommendations. Standing Committees deal with Assembly business of a continuing nature.
During session, the Assembly operates according to standard parliamentary rules for debate, with some modifications to allow for northern circumstances. The Assembly frequently refers questions to Committee of the Whole, where a more informal discussion can take place. This is well suited to an Assembly where Members do not represent political parties and decisions are made by consensus.
Sessions are held for approximately 14 weeks of the year, depending on the amount of business to be dealt with. The longest session of the year is the budget session, held early in the year when Members review the Government’s annual budget.
In Yellowknife, the Legislative Assembly’s facilities include the Chamber, meeting and caucus rooms, and offices for MLAs and staff. The Clerk of the Assembly and their staff provide professional advice on parliamentary procedures to the Speaker, chairmen of Committees and individual MLAs. The Office of the Legislative Assembly also provides services to Members in the areas of finance and administration, research and public affairs.
English, French and nine Indigenous languages of the Northwest Territories may be spoken in the Legislative Assembly, with simultaneous interpretation provided by trained language specialists. Interpretation of four of the official languages is provided daily, on a rotating basis.