The most substantial differences between the two are the system of government and the election process. Elected Members who belong to a party such as the Progressive Conservative, Liberal or New Democratic parties form provincial governments. All provinces have a Premier. He or she is the leader of the party that has the largest number of elected Members.
Members of the government of the Northwest Territories are individuals who are not members of a party, but are elected as independents by the people in their constituency or riding. There are 19 constituencies in the Northwest Territories, which are represented by 19 Members. Soon after a general election, the Members elect, from amongst themselves, one Member to fill the position of Speaker and another to Premier. (The title was formerly Government Leader). They also choose six other Members to be Executive Council Members, also called Cabinet Ministers. The absence of party structures allows each Member to vote as he or she wishes on any subject matter. Approval of any decision requires agreement by the majority of Members. This is called consensus government.
The two major differences between the legislative powers of Territories and that of provinces are the power of the provinces to amend their constitutions and control the management and sale of public lands.
The Constitution Act of 1982 granted each province the power to amend its own constitution. The constitution of the Northwest Territories is the Northwest Territories Act, which is a federal statute. Therefore, only the Parliament of Canada has the right to amend the provisions of the Act, and amend the constitution of the Northwest Territories.
Each province has control over the sale and management of public lands. Most land in the territories remains Crown (federal) land. Aboriginal governments with settled land claims are also large landowners. Unlike a province, the three territories do not have the power to deal with all lands within their boundaries.
In the past, the federal government appointed a Lieutenant Governor to rule over any decisions made by a province. For the Territories, a Commissioner was appointed. Today, the roles of both the Lieutenant Governor and Commissioner are mostly ceremonial.
There are several other areas in which the power of the Territories is not the same as that of the provinces. A province is allowed to borrow money solely on credit, while the NWT's power to borrow is subject to approval of the Governor-in-Council. As well, the power of the Territories to incorporate companies is restricted so that certain companies, such as those in the telephone or air transportation business, cannot be incorporated under a Territorial Act.
Should the Northwest Territories wish to pursue provincial status, it will be necessary to amend the Constitution of Canada. This will require consent of the Parliament of Canada and a double majority from the provinces - seven of ten provinces with at least 50 percent of the population of Canada.