- What is a general election?
- When does a territorial election happen?
- What is the difference between a territorial election, a federal election, and a municipal election?
- What is the difference between a prospective candidate, an official candidate, an incumbent candidate, and an MLA?
- How do I find out what the candidates stand for?
- What is a constituency / electoral division / riding?
- How are constituency boundaries created?
- Who administers the election?
- Why is the electoral system set up the way it is?
- Where can I learn more about Northwest Territories elections?
- How do I vote?
- What if I will be unable to come out and vote on Election Day?
- How can I get involved in an election campaign?
- How does somebody become a candidate?
- What is an MLA?
- Who was my MLA prior to the election?
- What does an MLA do?
- How do I find out what my MLA did prior to the election?
- What are the different roles that an MLA may have?
- How do MLAs create laws?
- What is a Caucus?
- What is the House?
- What areas of governance fall under the territorial government?
- What is a department?
- What is Session?
- In what way does an election change the Government?
- What does the premier do?
- How does a person become a premier?
- What is a cabinet minister?
A general election in the Northwest Territories (NWT) is an election in which every electoral division holds an election. It’s a chance for citizens in every part of the territory to vote for one person to represent their geographic area in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Currently, there are 19 electoral divisions in the NWT. In each electoral division, the candidate with the highest number of votes becomes a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).
A general election is different from a by-election, which is an election for a smaller number of electoral divisions. A by-election could happen after an MLA resigns, is jailed, or dies while in office.
When does a territorial election happen?
The Elections and Plebiscites Act dictates when an election is to happen. A general territorial election is scheduled to take place in the NWT on the first Tuesday in October, four years after the previous general election.
The next scheduled territorial election is scheduled for Tuesday, October 1, 2019.
Territorial Election: A general election is held for each electoral district of the NWT in order to elect Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). These members create and vote on laws that fall under territorial jurisdiction in the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife.
Federal Election: A general election is held for each geographic area of Canada, including the Northwest Territories, in order to elect Members of Parliament (MPs). These members create and vote on laws that fall under federal jurisdiction in parliament in Ottawa.
Canada’s constitution is the document that outlines what areas of law the provinces, territories and federal government have the power to create. For instance, an MLA may create laws relating to how education is delivered, but an MP may not. Similarly, an MP may create laws relating to what is in the Criminal Code of Canada, but an MLA may not.
One area that falls under territorial jurisdiction is that of municipalities, such as towns, cities, villages, and hamlets. The territory determine the rules under which a municipality is to be governed through creating laws such as Cities, Towns and Villages Act, the Charter Communities Act, and the Local Authorities Elections Act.
Municipal Election: A general election is held for each geographic area within a municipality (city, town, village or hamlet), in order to elect members of Council (Councillors) and mayors. These members create and vote on bylaws that fall under the jurisdiction granted to them under the territory.
Source: The NWT Act
Source: Hamlets Act, NWT
A prospective candidate is somebody who intends to run for the office of MLA, but has not yet submitted their official nomination papers. A prospective candidate can only run for one electoral district.
An official candidate is a prospective candidate who submits their nomination papers, which include 15 signatures from qualified voters who live within the electoral district. The papers must be submitted after the beginning of the election period (also known as the ‘writ drop’) and before the deadline at 2PM on the fifth day of the election period. Official candidates are those you will have the choice of selecting when you vote.
An incumbent candidate is a candidate who, prior to the beginning of the election period, was the MLA for the electoral division in which they are currently running for re-election.
An MLA, or Member of the Legislative Assembly, is the official candidate who receives the highest number of votes, which are counted on Election Day. Only one MLA may be elected in any electoral division.
Source: Elections NWT
Determining who is a good candidate is a judgment call that you get to make as a voter. You can make this decision in whatever way you choose. Our website provides you with several ways to contact your candidates so that you may ask him or her your questions. You may also view all recent news articles relevant to each candidate on the candidate page by clicking on a candidate’s name.
During the election period, you can ask candidates all sorts of questions, such as:
- Why did you decide to run in the 2019 territorial election?
- Why should a voter consider electing you to represent them?
- Is there anything in particular you would like to change in our territory? In your riding?
- What key issue(s) / topic(s) will you stand for in your role as MLA, and why are these important to you?
- Do you have any other comments regarding your candidacy?
You may also review the information candidates provide about themselves on their website, Facebook page, or through their Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube accounts. Most candidate webpages have a short bio that allows you to learn a little bit about their background.
A constituency is another name for an electoral district, which is a geographic area in which the people are represented by an elected MLA. There are 19 constituencies in the NWT, covering all areas of the territory. The candidate who wins your electoral district during an election will hold one of the 19 ‘seats’ in the Legislative Assembly.
You can view your candidates by selecting the map of your constituency on our home page. If you do not know what constituency you reside in, you can find out from Elections NWT by reviewing the maps found here.
Source: Maps – Elections NWT
The electoral district boundaries are drawn and named by the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which under the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act. This is an independent commission responsible for updating the boundaries every eight years (or every second election) to respond to changes in the population. The boundaries were last updated in 2012.
The territorial elections are run under the Elections and Plebiscites Act, which mandates that a Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) be appointed to run territorial elections. This person oversees the office called ‘Elections NWT.’ The CEO is appointed by the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories as an independent officer of the Legislature.
The CEO administers territorial elections, by-elections, and plebiscites to ensure they are fair and free of political influence, in accordance with the Elections and Plebiscites Act.
More information is available on the Elections NWT website.
Source: Elections and Plebiscites Act
The Constitution mandates that Canada have federal, provincial and territorial elections in which every Canadian citizen can vote, and where no government can stay in power for more than five years without having an election unless there is a “war, invasion, or insurrection” (Constitution Act 1982 Section 4). It also grants the territory the power to create additional laws to oversee the elections, which is how the Elections and Plebiscites Act was created in the NWT. All territorial Acts are created through several stages and much discussion with opportunity for input from all MLAs. Acts are passed only with the support from the majority of MLAs.
Elections NWT is the official authority on NWT territorial elections and is an excellent resource for election information. You can visit their website here or contact them at (867) 767-9100 or toll free at 1 (844) 767-9100.
Source: Elections NWT
You can vote at a voting station operated by Elections NWT as long as you are a Canadian citizen, over the age of 18, and have lived in the NWT for at least six months before the election.
You can vote on Tuesday October 1st (Election Day) between 8 AM and 8 PM by going to your local voting station. You can find your local voting station at Elections NWT by following this link and entering your address.
You may also vote in advance of election day, between September 6 and September 29. Details on voting before election day, can be found here.
If your name is not on the voters list on Election Day, or you are voting in advance, you must bring “government issued photo ID” or “two documents that include your name” (Elections NWT). More details about voting ID requirements are available here.
You will have the choice of voting for one registered candidate in your electoral division. Elections NWT provides a quick easy overview of the voting process here.
Election officers will be able to help you with further questions at the voting station. For any other questions about voting you can contact Elections NWT at (867) 767-9100 or toll-free at 1-844-767-9700 or visit electionsnwt.ca.
Elections NWT provides many options for voters who will have difficulty voting or will be out of the territory on Election Day. Some of this information is available under Voting Opportunities.
How can I participate in an election campaign?
You can participate in an election campaign by contacting a candidate. Most candidates seek volunteers, sign locations, and financial contributions in order to promote their candidacy.
A person must be a Canadian citizen over the age of 18 who has lived in the Northwest Territories for at least 12 months in order to be eligible to become a candidate. Elections NWT outlines various other requirements, including the need to gather at least nomination signatures from residents within the electoral division. Prospective candidates had until 2:00 pm on September 6th to submit all requirements to Elections NWT to become an official candidate for the 2019 Election.
An MLA is a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly is the group of 19 people elected to create and vote on laws that govern the Northwest Territories. Each MLA represents the residents of a geographic area within the NWT, called an electoral division or riding or a constituency. All the land within the NWT is within the boundaries of a territorial electoral division.
Up until the 2019 Election Period began, your MLA was either 1) the candidate who won the 2015 election in your electoral division, 2) in the case of a more recent by-election, the candidate who won that by-election, 3) or no MLA if the seat was vacated prior to the election. Once the election was called, all MLAs were no longer MLAs, and those running for re-election went through the process to become candidates once again. They are known as incumbent candidates. On each electoral division page, our website identifies the most recent MLA in the electoral division description at the bottom of the page, under the candidates.
An MLA has several roles including proposing laws in the NWT through what are called Bills, discussing Bills proposed by other MLAs, and voting on these Bills. MLAs also solve problems and voice concerns on behalf of residents in their electoral division, and may work with other MLAs on policy and strategy. MLAs may also serve on committees, which review the contents of proposed laws, and hear from experts and members of the public about these laws.
MLAs may also be elected by other MLAs to take on a specific role in relation on the Executive Council (Cabinet) and the Premier then assigns specific portfolios. More information is available under What are the different roles that an MLA may have?
You can learn about your MLA on his or her website. Many things your MLA has done may not be on public record. If your MLA is running for re-election, you may contact him or her through the contact information provided on our website.
You may also read what your MLA has debated in the NWT Legislature in Hansard, which is the record of what was said during all debates. Official online Hansard records go back to 2000 and are available on the Legislative Assembly website here. As well, OpenNWT has digitized Hansard going back to 1991 available here.
You can also find out what Bills (proposed laws) MLAs have introduced here. The Legislative Assembly of the NWT website provides a ‘status of bills’ document for each session of lawmaking. This includes the title of the bill, and its current status.
Source: OpenNWT OpenAssembly
An MLA can be a Regular MLA, a Cabinet Minister, a Premier, or The Speaker of the House.
Regular Members are MLAs who are Cabinet Ministers. Regular Members sit on various Committees of the House..
Cabinet Ministers are MLAs appointed by the all MLAs to oversee the day-to-day activities of government departments and to propose new laws. The Premier decides which areas of responsibility (portfolios) each Minister has.
The Premier is appointed by all MLAs at the Territorial Leadership Committee. After winning the vote at the Leadership Committee MLAs pass a motion in the Assembly appointing the Premier.
The Speaker of the House is an MLA who is elected by secret ballot from all other MLAs to preserve order and enforce the “Rules of the House” during Session, which is the time when all MLAs gather to create laws, question the ministers, and engage in debates, among other things.
MLAs have the ability to create new laws for the NWT. All laws they have sponsored are on public record.
When a law is first proposed by an MLA, it is called a Bill, which has to go through several stages to become a law. Once the law is passed it is called an Act (also known as a statute). All the current Acts in the NWT are viewable here. These are the laws that govern the territory.
Cabinet Ministers can propose Government Bills, while individual MLAs can propose Private Bill. Cabinet Ministers can also create regulations under the ministries they direct, in addition to Government Bills.
All of the bills since 2007 are available for viewing on the Legislative Assembly of the NWT website here. The bills are organized by which session of the legislature the Bills were proposed under. The sessions are the periods in which the MLAs get together to create law. You can click on ‘Status of Bills’ to see the current status of Bills being considered.
The stages in passing a Bill into law are the following:
1. Notice – The intent to introduce the bill must be appear in the Notice Paper one day prior to introduction.
2. First Reading – The MLA reads the title of the bill and may give a brief explanation. The MLAs then decide whether or not to allow this bill to proceed further.
3. Second Reading – The bill gets discussed among the MLAs. The proposed Bill either gets approved in principal or rejected.
4. Committee Stage – The Bill gets referred to a committee of Regular MLAs. These MLAs then receive advice from experts and from members of the public during public hearings. The committee can then propose amendments to the Bill.
5. Report Stage – The Bill gets reported and discussed by all of the MLAs again. The MLAs may suggest further changes during the Committee of the Whole.
6. Third Reading – MLAs may suggest further changes and debate the final Bill. After any debate MLAs hold a final vote on whether to pass it into law.
7. Commissioner’s Assent – Before a Bill becomes law, it must receive approval from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
All Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA’s) form the Caucus, which plays a key role in making consensus government work. Caucus provides all Members with the opportunity to work together to set broad strategic direction for the Legislative Assembly and discuss current important issues facing the NWT.
All MLAs serve as equal members of Caucus and are encouraged to participate in discussions free from Cabinet or Committee solidarity. As well, Members leave their titles at the door unless asked to speak to an issue in their official role. Example: The Premier may need to update Caucus about future House business or the Speaker may have to discuss an appointment process for a statutory officer.
Caucus meetings are confidential and MLA’s can speak openly and honestly, and raise sensitive issues. Even the Speaker, as a member of Caucus, can participate in discussions without the usual constraints that accompany the Speaker’s role.
The House is the group of all MLAs during Session, the period during which all MLAs gather to create laws, question the ministers, and engage in debates among other things.
Consensus Government Basics
The Northwest Territories is one of only two jurisdictions in Canada with a consensus system of government instead of one based on party politics. In our system, all Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected as independents. Shortly after the election, all Members meet as a Caucus to set priorities for that Assembly. The Caucus remains active throughout their term as the forum where all Members meet as equals.
Members who are not in Cabinet are referred to as Regular Members. They become the “unofficial opposition.” They are responsible, through questioning in the House and the work of standing committees, for holding the government accountable and responsive to the people of the Northwest Territories.
Compared to the party system, there is much more communication between Regular Members and Cabinet. All legislation, major policies, and proposed budgets pass through the Regular Members’ standing committees before coming to the House. This gives Members a chance to make changes and put their “fingerprints” on initiatives before they’re made public, unlike in other systems. This influence comes at a price for Regular Members: they often get advance notice of announcements and issues before the public does, but can’t tell their constituents. The 11 Regular Members also hold the balance of power, as only seven Cabinet Ministers are elected. A Cabinet that ignores the direction favored by the majority soon runs into trouble. Even so, consensus government does not mean that unanimous agreement is necessary for decisions to be made, motions passed, and legislation enacted. A simple majority carries the vote.
The Constitution Act of 1867 grants Canadian provinces the right to govern over such areas as hospitals, charities, municipalities, shops and bars, incorporation of local businesses, local infrastructure and transportation channels, marriage, property and civil rights, natural resources and electricity, education, and other laws deemed to be of a “local or private nature”. This is not a full list and does not include various areas that have arisen from new technologies or other such changes since 1867. Also, the Constitution Act of 1982 set out individual freedoms under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that cannot be taken away by any level of government.
Below is a list of current departments under the Government of the Northwest Territories.
- Education Culture and Employment
- Environment and Natural Resources
- Executive and Indigenous Affairs
- Health and Social Services
- Industry, Tourism and Investment
- Municipal and Community Affairs
Because the Constitution Act of 1867 grants provinces authority over education and issues deemed to be ‘local’ in nature, the Northwest Territories has the power to pass legislation that creates and mandates school boards and municipalities. Municipal and school board powers, along with their elections, are created through legislation passed by the territory.
The NWT also creates the laws that establish and set up a governance model for various agencies, boards, and commissions. Crown corporations are publicly-owned corporations, which include entities such as Northwest Territories Power Corporation, NWT Business Development Corporation, the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission and NWT Housing Corporation. A list of NWT agencies and other government initiatives is available here.
Source: The Constitution Act, 1982
A department in the NWT is under the direction of a Cabinet Minister, which includes departments and other agencies. Cabinet Ministers are appointed by the Premier to be responsible for the daily operations of their departments, the creation of laws relating to their departments, and for answering questions relating to their departments to Regular MLAs during ‘Oral Questions’.
A Session in the Legislature is the period of time, at least once per year, during which all MLAs gather in the legislature and propose new laws, question the Ministers, and engage in debate among other things. A session begins with ‘The Commissioner’s Address’, which is a statement on what the government has achieved and plans to do. The government’s budget is also announced during Session through the ‘Budget Speech’. The following activities occur each sitting day during Session:
Introduction of Bills – MLAs introduce new proposed laws
Petitions – MLAs read petitions
Committee Reports – An MLA who chairs a committee related to a Bill may report on findings
Tabling of Reports – MLAs present reports and other documents to the House
Ministers Statements – Cabinet ministers may make a statement or announcement of government policy
Oral Questions – MLAs may ask questions of the Premier and Cabinet Ministers
Members’ Statements – MLAs may make a statement on any manner other than ministerial statements
When an election is called, all MLAs cease to hold their role as MLA. The Premier and Cabinet Ministers have to run for re-election if they wish to become MLAs again. During this period they continue to hold the roles of Premier and Cabinet Minister in order to ensure the daily operations of the government continue to be run.
After the election, the elected MLAs will elect the Premier, and six Ministers. The Premier assigns portfolios to Cabinet Minister. It is possible that it could be the same set of Cabinet Ministers as that of the previous government, but that is only if the House appoints the same group of MLAs.
During an election the candidates may each produce a platform of policies and ideas that they wish to follow, once they are elected.
During the election period, all MLAs, including the premier, lose their titles as MLA. However, the premier remains in his or her position as premier in order to oversee the daily operations of government.
The Premier is the leader of the territorial government, under the Commissioner (representative of the federal government) and the person who assigns portfolios to the Cabinet Ministers to run the departments of the government. The Premier is the senior minister, who provides leadership and direction to the government.
Together, the Premier and the ministers are called Executive Council or Cabinet. This is the group of people who run daily operations of the government. This group puts the government policies into practice and manages the annual budget.
The Premier, along with other Ministers, must answer to the opposition MLAs during the Question Period.
During the election period, all MLAs, including the premier, lose their roles as MLA. However, the premier remains in his or her position as premier in order to oversee the daily operations of government.
Once elected, Members hold a territorial leadership meeting at the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. Members have many discussions behind the scenes as candidates measure their support leading up to the election, which has been held in public since the 12th Assembly. Candidates are nominated and given 20 minutes to present their platforms. Then the floor is opened for a limited number of questions from each Member, and a secret ballot vote is held. Sometimes it takes several ballots before any candidate receives more than 50% of the votes.
It rarely happens, but the Premier and/or Cabinet ministers can be removed by the passing of a motion of non-confidence in the House. Motions of censure are a less extreme measure that can put the Premier or minister under considerable public pressure.
A Cabinet Minister is an MLA who is elected by the House and assigned by the Premier to oversee the daily activities within a department of the government and to create new laws. Cabinet Ministers are answerable to Regular MLAs during Oral Questions for questions that relate to their areas of responsibility.
During the election period, all MLAs, including cabinet ministers, lose their roles as MLA. However, cabinet ministers remain in their position as cabinet ministers in order to oversee the daily operations of government.