Judge tells Yellowknife to forget having more MLAs

Legislative Assembly
The Chamber of the NWT Legislative Assembly. Submitted photo
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The NWT Supreme Court has dismissed an application from the City of Yellowknife to have the current territorial electoral boundaries declared invalid.

The city and a group of seven supporters had argued that the current boundaries give smaller communities an unfairly large share of representation in the legislature.

In July, mayor Mark Heyck told Moose FM the city did not necessarily want more MLAs per se, but he felt equal representation was a constitutional right.

“Yellowknife, with almost 50 percent of the population of the NWT, has only about 36 percent of the representation within the legislature. That’s what we’re trying to address here,” said Heyck at the time. He said that could be corrected by either adding MLAs, reducing the number of MLAs in other areas, or redistributing the current number of MLAs.

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However, in a judgment issued to media on Tuesday, The Honourable Justice Louise Charbonneau turned down the city’s bid to force a revision of the boundaries.

In full: NWT Supreme Court’s decision regarding electoral boundaries (pdf)

Charbonneau, in explaining her judgment, said the electoral boundaries should only be challenged if they “could not have been set by reasonable persons applying the appropriate principles”.

Charbonneau said a 2013 report on this issue had acknowledged the challenge of drawing up the NWT’s electoral boundaries, given “factors such as the historic configuration of electoral districts, language, culture, geography, land claims and self-government agreements”.

She found that “reasonable people may disagree as to how those challenges should be resolved, [but] saying that a different decision could have been made is a far cry from saying that the decision that was made could not have been made by reasonable persons, having regard to all the circumstances.”

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Charbonneau also considered that Yellowknife’s seven ridings had been shown to be within an ‘acceptable’ range of under-representation.

Accordingly, she dismissed the city’s application.

Her judgment would not have applied to November’s territorial election, regardless of the outcome, given the tight timeline involved.

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