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Northwest Territories Legislative Beat

The Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly convened May 26th to June 12th, 2020, to continue the second session of the 19th Assembly, which was unexpectedly cut short in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary purpose was to pass the 2020-21 budget, however, the Assembly did consider the following bills:

Bill 6-19(2) – An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. Legislatures across the world have grappled with the issue of parliamentary accountability in the time of a pandemic when in person meetings may not be desirable or possible. The NWT legislature is no exception. The sole purpose of Bill 6 is to permit the Assembly to conduct all, or a portion of, a session by teleconference or videoconference, and to permit members to participate in a session by way of teleconference or videoconference at the discretion of the Speaker. This bill will ensure that any future sessions which are held remotely are clearly authorized and should allow for parliamentary accountability to remain intact when in person sessions cannot practically be held.

Bill 10-19(2) – Temporary Variation of Statutory Time Periods (COVID-19 Pandemic Measures) Act. Like Bill 6, Bill 10 is short but has a potentially powerful impact. The bill authorizes the Commissioner in Executive Council (essentially cabinet) to make orders that result in the temporary variation of a date, deadline or time period found in legislation. The bill authorized the orders to have a retroactive effect as far as March 24, 2020, which was the date that the state of emergency was declared in the Northwest Territories. Any temporary variation of a statute would only remain in effect for a maximum of six months from the date that Bill 10 was given assent (clearly confining the bill to the current pandemic). The bill also provided that advance notice of any variation must be given to the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight (composed of non-executive members). No variation of deadlines is permitted for those deadlines found in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Health Information Act and the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. Bill 10 is consistent with measures taken in other jurisdictions.

Additionally, the Assembly passed a number of budget bills before adjourning on June 12th. They meet again October 15, 2020.

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