When we speak of the government we usually mean the Executive Council, or Cabinet. Like other forms of government, our parliamentary system has three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. The executive branch proposes laws, the legislative branch approves laws, and the judiciary applies them through the courts. The Cabinet is the executive branch, but because it is made up of the elected members of the Assembly, the executive and legislative branches overlap. The Executive Council is the senior decision-making body of the Government of the Northwest Territories and is made up of a premier and six ministers, all of whom are elected by all Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Whether during Session of the Legislative Assembly or other times of the year, the Executive Council is responsible for the day-to-day administration of government. In doing so, ministers work with the whole Caucus, with other ministers, or as individuals. Throughout the year, they discuss policy, consider new laws, and work on budget estimates. Individually, they are department heads, making sure the laws administered by their departments are enforced.
Administrative department heads, called deputy ministers, report directly to the ministers. It is the ministers’ responsibility to take the general directions established by the Assembly, develop policy which must be ratified by the Executive Council, make decisions on how the policies are to be put into action, and ensure the administration follows through.
Responding to the needs of the public, ministers introduce legislation relating to their departments' responsibilities. They must answer questions in the Legislative Assembly about their departments' activities and budgets.
The Executive Council has its own internal committees and support branches. There are several special and advisory secretariats for co-ordination and input in areas such as intergovernmental affairs, Aboriginal rights and constitutional development, and regional operations.
Changes Over the Years
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.
In 1975, the Legislative Assembly recommended that two elected Members sit on an Executive Committee. A third elected Member was added in 1976.
These Members held department portfolios and advised the Commissioner on policy matters concerning their departments. Their involvement with policy at the executive level was an important step towards responsible government.
By 1981, both the number and responsibilities of elected Executive Committee members had increased. Seven elected Members, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner formed the Executive. A major step was taken that year when one Member, George Braden, was named Leader of the Elected Executive and another, Tom Butters, Minister of Finance.
In 1983, the Deputy Commissioner was removed from the Executive Council and replaced by an additional elected Member. In 1984, the Commissioner stopped sitting with elected members during sessions. A year later, he gave up being chairman of the Executive Council, to be replaced in that position by the Government Leader, who had until that year been known as the Leader of the Elected Executive.
During the Tenth Legislative Assembly (1983 - 1987), the Government Leader became chairperson of the Executive Council, and the Commissioner gave up attending sittings of the Assembly. All ministerial portfolios were assigned to elected Members.
In February 1994, the Assembly agreed to change the title of Government Leader to Premier.
Although the Commissioner still officially opens each session and provides assent to bills, the role of the Commissioner has become mostly ceremonial.