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A Day in the Assembly | Building a Legislature | The Creation of the Northwest Territories
A Day in the Assembly
The ringing of the bells marks the start of another day in the Legislature and the Sergeant-At-Arms, carrying the Mace, leads the Speaker, Clerk, Deputy Clerk, Clerk of Committees and two pages into the Chamber.
All individuals in the House remain standing while the Sergeant-At-Arms lays the Mace in the stand directly in front of the Clerk's table and during the prayer, said by a Member of the Legislative Assembly, in one of the NWT's eleven official languages.
The Mace is placed in the higher stand at the start of each day to symbolize the Speaker's authority and presence in the House. It is moved to a second, lower stand when the House has moved into Committee of the Whole. The Mace symbolizes the legislative authority of the Assembly and without it no laws can be passed.
Following the prayer, the Premier and Cabinet Ministers have 20 minutes for statements before regular MLAs can make statements (limited to two-and-a-half minutes and only one per day is allowed).
The oral question period follows directly after statements. This one-hour time slot is an opportunity for regular MLAs to ask questions of the Premier and seven Cabinet Ministers on any government decision or policy. The absence of party politics in the NWT, means any MLA can ask the first question in Question Period. An MLA can ask an opening question and three supplementary questions. Questions can be asked until the one hour has been exhausted, unless unanimous consent to extend Question Period is requested.
After question period time is allotted for MLAs to ask written questions. These are usually questions requiring too much detail to be answered in the House. This is followed by time for Members to reply to the Opening Address or present petitions on behalf of their constituents.
Standing and Special Committees then report on their activities or on their reviews of Bills. There are five standing committees in the Legislature. Special Committees can be established to deal with issues of specific concerns such as Health and Social Services.
This is followed by the tabling of documents, routine notices of motion pertaining to the business of the House and Committees, and the introduction of Bills for first and second reading.
The House then moves into Committee of Whole to discuss bills and other matters referred to the Committee. This debate gives regular MLAs and cabinet minister the opportunity to discuss the bills and other issues.
Third reading of bills and the reading of the Orders of the Day for the next sitting concludes a day in the Legislature.
How a Bill Becomes Law
A bill is an idea which is presented to the Legislative Assembly for approval or not. Each bill, before it becomes law, goes through several steps to ensure that MLAs and members of the general public can review it and have their say on it.
There are two types of bills: Public Bills and Private Members Bills.
Most bills are introduced and sponsored by the Government. These Bills are introduced by a Minister and reflect the policy of the government. A Bill could propose an entirely new Act or change an existing Act.
Regular MLAs can also introduce bills in the House, these are known as Private Member's Bills. Regular Members can not introduce Money Bills, only Ministers can.
Before a Bill becomes law it must pass through several steps, including: First and Second Readings, consideration by a Standing Committee, Third Reading, Assent, and the Coming into Force.
Let's use an example to help explain how it all works. If the Minister of Transportation wanted to increase the speed limit on NWT Highways to 110 kilometers per hour he would do so by giving notice that he intended to introduce a Bill to make the change. After 48 hours has passed the Minister can introduce and ask for first reading on the Bill. No debate is allowed at this stage but once it has been voted on the Bill can be distributed to the public.
The next stage is getting second reading. Again the Minister would ask for second reading but here Members consider the principle of the Bill or the reason why the Government wants to make a change and how it would be applied. Once second reading has been given the Bill is referred to one of the Legislative Assembly's Standing Committees. For example this Bill would be referred to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, whose Members review policies, the budget and other issues related to the Transportation Department.
The Standing Committee considers the Bill in detail and decides whether public hearings are needed before going through the Bill clause by clause. Each clause has to be voted on and may be amended. Once the Committee approves the Bill they report back to the House and the Bill is ready for Third Reading.
Third Reading is usually the final stage before a Bill receives Assent and becomes a law. The purpose of this reading is to review the Bill in its final form. There is no debate on the Motion for Third Reading.
The final stage before a Bill becomes law is Assent by the Commissioner. Once Assent has been given the Bill either comes into force that day or on a date set by the Commissioner or one specified in the Bill.