Why the commissioner said no


Many Keewatin residents are surely disappointed that Commissioner Helen Maksagak finally said no to Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’Brien’s request for a public inquiry into the Keewatin Regional Health Board’s recent activities.

They shouldn’t, however, be surprised that Maksagak felt compelled to make that decision.

Had Maksagak said yes to O’Brien’s request, she would have re-asserted executive powers that her predecessor, former commissioner John Parker, surrendered nearly two decades ago for the sake of encouraging the growth of so-called “responsible” government.

Such an assertion of the commissioner’s power would have overturned nearly 20 years of constitutional development in the Northwest Territories during which time the commissioner surrendered all executive power to the elected territorial cabinet.

So it’s also likely that Maksagak could have precipitated an ugly constitutional crisis had she agreed to a public inquiry.

By the letter of the law, which in our case is still the Northwest Territories Act, the commissioner may still have the power to make executive decisions over the heads of the premier and other cabinet members.

But by convention which in constitutional law is equal to, if not more powerful than what is written in statutes the NWT commissioner does not likely have that power now. By convention, territorial commissioners are now supposed to fulfill the same functions as provincial lieutenant-governors or the Governor General of Canada.

To acknowledge her respect for those conventions, Maksagak, in a letter to O’Brien, said she made her decision after “consultation” with Premier Don Morin. That’s a polite way of saying that Morin and his minions ordered her to decide against an inquiry.

Keewatin residents may have their suspicions about Morin’s motives in doing this. But the unwritten rules that now govern the commissioner’s relationship with the cabinet give him the right to dictate to the commissioner.

Maksagak took a long time to respond to O’Brien’s request, which he made back in August.

It suggests that Maksagak took O’Brien’s request seriously, and likely took the time to sift through the mounds of evidence in support of a public inquiry supplied by the Keewatin Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Union of Northern Workers, and others.

It also suggests that Maksagak may have thought seriously about granting a public inquiry.

That, in itself, speaks volumes about the depths to which the current territorial cabinet has sunk in the eyes of the public, and how close they may have come to destroying nearly 20 years’ worth of constitutional evolution in northern territorial government.

Against human rights

On Friday, October 10, a majority of MLAs voted in favor of stupidity and against human rights.

It’s not the first time MLAs have done this kind of thing and it’s not likely to be the last. On this occasion, they voted against an amendment to one of the NWT’s new family law bills that would have given recognition to long-term same-sex relationships in a section of the law dealing with the division of family property.

Here’s who voted in favor of human rights: Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus, Yellowknife Frame Lake MLA Charles Dent, Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco, Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger and Yellowknife Center MLA Jake Ootes.

Here’s who voted in favor of stupidity and irrational prejudice: Municipal Affairs Minister Manitok Thompson, Transportation Minister Jim Antoine, Premier Don Morin, Finance Minister John Todd, Deputy Premier Goo Arlooktoo, Nunakput MLA Vince Steen, Natilikmeot MLA John Ningark, High Arctic MLA Levi Barnabas, Baffin Central MLA Tommy Enuaraq, and Inuvik MLA Floyd Roland.

And here’s who abstained: Health Minister Kelvin Ng and North Slave MLA James Rabesca. Five other MLAs weren’t at the sitting.

As for the paragons of morality and family values who voted against the amendment, here’s some advice: Now that you don’t have the Five Aces Poker Club to disport yourselves in anymore, perhaps you can spend your long lonely evenings in Yellowknife reading up on the Canadian Human Rights Act.

After that you can figure out where you’ll find the money to settle all the lawsuits your government is going to lose.JB

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