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The Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories

Prior to becoming a province on September 1, 1905, Alberta was part of the Northwest Territories. A great deal of the land which constituted the Northwest Territories at that time was purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company.

The political history of the Northwest Territories is largely an account of the struggle of territorial representatives to gain responsible government (i.e. a government where the elected representatives of the citizens control the decisionmaking process rather than appointed officials). Since the Lieutenant Governors of the Northwest Territories were appointed by the Canadian government and represented the federal government in the Territories, they played an important part in this process.

As the following account illustrates, at the beginning of the territorial period, the Lieutenant Governor had far-ranging powers and virtually complete administrative control over the Northwest Territories. However, by the end of the territorial period in 1905, the powers of this office had been reduced and many were assumed by the elected government. No new powers were assigned to the Lieutenant Governor following the formation of the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

At first, the Northwest Territories was administered by the Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territories (1869) and then by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (1870-76). These Lieutenant Governors and their small Councils were appointed by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister. The legislation which provided for the provisional government of the Northwest Territories was the Temporary Government Act of 1869, which was renewed annually by the federal government.

It was not until 1876 that the Northwest Territories had its own resident Lieutenant Governor and Council. Once again, the Lieutenant Governor and Council were appointed by the Governor General of Canada, not elected. However, the Northwest Territories Act of 1876 did provide that elected representatives would be added to the Council, as the population of the Territories increased, until there were twenty-one elected Members. At that point, the appointed Members would be dropped.

The first Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories was David Laird, and the First Session of the Northwest Territorial Council was held at Fort Livingstone in 1876. Fort Livingstone was located near the Manitoba bolder approximately one mile northwest of present-day Pelly, Saskatchewan. It is interesting to note that when the Lieutenant Governor withdrew after delivering the Speech from the Throne, the Committee of the Whole consisted of the Chairman and two other Council Members. Consequently, the voting procedure required that the Chairman adjourn proceedings if one of the Members had to go to the washroom.

In 1888, the Northwest Territories Act was amended and the former Council was dropped in favor of a Legislative Assembly consisting of twenty-two elected Members and three non-voting legal advisers. The three non-voting advisers were dropped in 1891 As one would expect. at that point the Members of the Legislative Assembly elected a Speaker, from among themselves, to chair their meetings. The Lieutenant Governor no longer presided over regular meetings of the Assembly. The first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories was The Honourable Herbert C. Wilson, the Member for the electoral district of Edmonton. As well, the Lieutenant Governor appointed a four man Advisory Council from the membership of the Assembly to assist him with his responsibilities. Frederick W.A.G. Haultain, the Member for Fort Macleod, was the first Chairman of this Council.

At that time, the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories had complete control over the revenues that were raised from the Territories. However, it did not have any control over the much larger grants from the federal government. These were administered by the Lieutenant Governor. This was a source of conflict between the Lieutenant Governor and the Advisory Council. When this conflict could not be successfully resolved, the Advisory Council was abandoned and, in 1891, was replaced by an Executive Committee which had been authorized by the Territorial Legislative Assembly. Frederick W.A.G. Haultain was Chairman of this Committee and, at that point, he began negotiating directly with Ottawa for supportive funding.

In 1897, the Northwest Territories Act was amended again. This time, it provided full cabinet government for the Territories. Consequently, the Lieutenant Governor appointed the new Executive Council and its President (i.e. the Cabinet and the Premier). The first Premier of the Northwest Territories was Frederick W.A.G. Haultain. He was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Charles H. Mackintosh. Following their appointment, every Member of the Executive Council had to stand for reelection. As well, during the same year, federal legislation created the Yukon Territory out of an area that had formerly been part of the Northwest Territories. The Klondike gold rush necessitated local government in that area.

Although the territorial government was now quite similar to that of the Canadian provinces, it still did not have control over public lands and natural resources. As well, its powers of taxation were very limited, and federal support for local services was inadequate. Consequently, the struggle for provincial status began.

Premier Frederick W.A.G. Haultain envisioned one province that would include all of the Territories. He also felt that the related government should be politically non-partisan. However, on September 1, 1905, the federal government created two new provinces out of the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and generally, the established political parties prevailed. Because of his Conservative political leanings, Frederick W.A.G. Haultain was by-passed by the federal Liberal government when the Premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan were appointed. Instead, he served as the Leader of the Official Opposition in Saskatchewan's First Legislature. The Honourable Améd.e E. Forget, the last Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, became the first Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan and served in that capacity from 1905 to 1910. The Honourable George H.V. Bulyea was Alberta's first Lieutenant Governor and he served in that capacity from 1905 to 1915.

As a consequence of the creation of the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories was now much smaller. It consisted of all that part of Canada which is located north of the Sixtieth Parallel of North Latitude, except the portions of that area which constitute part of the Yukon Territory, Quebec, and Newfoundland. The Northwest Territories Act of 1905, as amended in 1907, provided for the government of the Territories by a chief executive officer called the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. The Commissioner was appointed by the Governor General of Canada, as advised by the Prime Minister. The Governor General also appointed a Council, which consisted of no more than four Members, to assist in the administration of the Territories. The federal Cabinet and the Minister of the Interior gave direction to the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories as required and the seat of government (capital) returned to Ottawa, Ontario. Today's government of that jurisdiction consists of an appointed Commissioner, an elected Legislative Assembly, and an Executive Council chosen by the Members of the Legislative Assembly. The Chairman of the Executive Council is chosen by the Caucus of the Legislative Assembly and is called the "Government Leader". The seat of government is now located at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

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