The Commissioner of the Northwest Territories serves a pivotal role in the governance of the Northwest Territories. Appointed by the Governor-in-Council of Canada on the recommendation of the prime Minister of Canada, the Commissioner is the federal government’s representative in the territory and the Chief Executive Officer of the Northwest Territories.
Unlike the provinces, the Northwest Territories is not given the authority to govern under the Constitution Acts. The position of Commissioner is created by the federal Northwest Territories Act and exercises a function similar to that of a provincial Lieutenant Governor.
Legislative duties that the Commissioner administers are:
- Swearing-in of the Members of the Legislative Assembly;
- Swearing-in of the members of the Executive Council under the recommendation of the Members of the Legislative Assembly;
- Appointment of Ministers or members of the Executive Council to ministerial portfolios on the advice of the Premier;
- Providing assent for bills after they have been passed by the Legislative Assembly (a bill must be approved by the Commissioner before it can become law);
- Opening sessions of the Legislative Assembly;
- Signing of documents such as orders-in-council, Commissioner's warrants, statutory appointments and disposition of Commissioner's Lands.
In addition to legislative duties the Commissioner also performs a ceremonial role by representing the Government of the Northwest Territories at official and landmark events across the Northwest Territories.
History of the Role of the Commissioner
Originally, the Executive consisted of only the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Assistant Commissioner. None were responsible directly to the Legislative Assembly for the conduct of government. The Commissioner was in charge of all Cabinet proceedings.
Increasingly, elected members assumed leadership roles, while the Commissioner’s duties became similar to the role of Lieutenant Governor for each of the Provinces During the 10th Legislative Assembly (1983 - 1987), the Government Leader became chairperson of the Executive Council, and the Commissioner no longer attended sittings of the Assembly. All ministerial portfolios were assigned to elected Members.
Although the Commissioner still officially opens each session and provides assent to bills, the role of the Commissioner has become mostly ceremonial.
Legally, the Federal government still has the 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 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, is still the Chief Executive Officer of the Government of Northwest Territories. Although the Commissioner must assent to laws, no territorial Act has ever been disallowed by the Federal government.