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Legislative Updates in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut

NWT Legislative Beat

The first session of the 19th Legislative Assembly convened on October 25, 2019. The 19th Assembly is a historic Assembly, with the NWT having gone from having the lowest percentage of elected female MLAs to the highest in the country at 48% with the general election of October 1, 2019. Given that most new assemblies take some time to develop legislative priorities, it is not surprising that the legislative output was modest. The following bill was considered, and passed, during the first session of the 19th Assembly:

  • Bill 1(19-1) – An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. This Act amends the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act to extend benefits to Members of the Assembly, most notably, a child care expense and the ability to regulate the child care expenses. It implements recommendations from the Special Committee to Increase the Representation of Women in the Legislative Assembly which had earlier reported to the Assembly. It is worthy of note that Nunavut passed amendments to their equivalent legislation authorizing the internal board of that Assembly to develop directives and reimburse members’ expenses in order to make their Assembly more family-friendly.

In addition to appropriation (budget) bills, the following bill was introduced in the second session of the Legislative Assembly and referred to committee for detailed consideration.

  • Bill 3(19-2) – An Act to Amend the Public Highways Act. The Bill amends the Public Highways Act to address Government liability for loss or damage resulting from a failure to maintain primary highways in the Northwest Territories. The Bill requires that the Government maintain primary highways and provides that the Government is liable for loss or damages for a failure to do so. However, with some exceptions, the Government has no liability for a failure to maintain roads that are not designated as primary highways.

Bill 3 is now before a committee of the Assembly for review and public consultation, after which, it will be referred back to the house for further consideration.

Nunavut Legislative Beat

Unlike the Northwest Territories, the Nunavut Legislative Assembly is more advanced in their legislative agenda, not surprising given that Members of the Nunavut Assembly have been at work since the general election of October 30, 2017. Non-budget bills passed since June of 2019 include the following:

  • Bill 1 – Corrections Act. This Bill, assented to in June 2019, makes sweeping changes to the corrections system in Nunavut. Interestingly, the 18th Legislative Assembly passed their own Corrections Act in August 2019 making many similarly sweeping changes to the corrections system in the NWT.
  • Bill 8 – An Act to Amend the Workers’ Compensation Act. This Bill enacts changes to the workers’ compensation system by clarifying terms relating to “impairment and disability”, adding detail to the definition of “employer”, removing the requirement for a worker to have a “primary health care provider”, clarifying compensation paid to dependent children, adding unemployment benefits as a category of remuneration, addressing information sharing and disclosure, and addressing the inspection of health records. As the workers’ compensation regime is a shared regime between the NWT and Nunavut, the 18th Assembly of the NWT passed mirror legislation in August, 2019.
  • Bill 26 – An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act. This Bill increased the Cost of Living Tax Credit and Basic Personal Amount for individuals, and decreased the corporate tax rates for small businesses in order to mitigate the impact of the federal carbon tax.
  • Bill 27 – An Act to Amend the Senior Citizens Benefits Act. This Bill updates terminology as well as addresses confidentiality and disclosure of personal information collected in the administration of the Act.
  • Bill 28 – An Act to Amend the Nunavut Elections Act. This Bill amends the Nunavut Elections Act to address the eligibility of public servants to be candidates in elections for municipal councils and district education authorities.
  • Bill 29 - An Act to Amend the Labour Standards Act and the Interpretation Act with Respect to Nunavut Day. While it has a long title, the Bill’s purpose is brief – to make Nunavut Day a general holiday.
  • Bill 38 - An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act and the Supplementary Retiring Allowances Act. This Bill amends the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act as a consequence of changes to federal tax legislation (addressing living allowances) and it allows for the Management and Services Board to issue directives for member’s allowances and expenses to create a more family-friendly Legislative Assembly and to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission to review Members' Indemnities, Allowances, Expenses and Benefits. It also contains amendments respecting Oaths of Office for members of the Management and Services Board and the Representative for Children and Youth. This Bill also amends the Supplementary Retiring Allowances Act with respect to elections members make in order to participate in the supplementary pension plan. It is interesting to note that both Nunavut and the NWT have chosen to enact provisions designed to address child care expenses for MLAs, given that child care responsibilities have historically been seen as a barrier to women running for office.
  • Bill 41 – An Act to Amend the Guardianship and Trusteeship Act. This Bill makes minor changes to the legislation to remove the reference to specific ministers and to substitute a generic reference to “the Minister” (presumably, to allow for flexibility in which Minister administers the legislation). The Bill comes into force on April 1, 2020, being the date that responsibility for the administration of the public guardian program transferred from the Department of Family Services to Justice.
  • Bill 42 – An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act. This Bill regulates the supply and sale of cannabis by in-store retailers. Nunavut already permits the online sale of cannabis, this Bill provides structure around the in-store sale of cannabis.
  • Bill 43 – An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act Respecting Consultation Periods. This Bill reduces the time frame for community consultation from 90 days to 60 days where a cannabis store is proposed and there is no cannabis store in that community. Where there is a cannabis store already in the community, the consultation period is reduced from 60 days to 30 days.

In addition to the above legislation which had received assent, Nunavut has a number of substantive bills before committee including a Legislation Act (always exciting for those of us who work with legislation), a new Mental Health Act, a new Medical Profession Act and proposed amendments to the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act, which are guaranteed to provoke public interest and debate. Given the recent cancellation (as of May 1) of Nunavut’s spring session, and the current Covid-19 environment, it is likely that there won’t be a great deal of public consultation on these bills for a while, but once the reviewing committee becomes active, these bills should produce some interesting public commentary.

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