This section provides an overview on the history of the development of municipal governments in the NWT, explains the different roles within a municipal government, describes the LGA’s role responsibilities and highlights the legislative framework that municipal governments operate within.
For as long as there have been communities in the NWT, people have found ways to organize themselves to assist each other. Some communities originated as fur trading posts and mission sites while others originated from activities such as mining, transportation and government. As these new communities grew, the first incorporated municipalities were formed. Over time, as aboriginal people moved into permanent communities and settlements, models of municipal and band government were put in place.
Starting in the 1960’s, programs were established to assist these emerging communities with some of the basic skills and authorities needed for community governance. This took the form of advisory councils. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, following the move of the GNWT to Yellowknife, new efforts were made to find forms of community governments that would work in the smaller communities. These efforts resulted in the Hamlets Act, the Settlements Act and the Charter Communities Act. More recently, the Tlicho Community Government Act was created to provide a bridge between the municipal models and the desire to have municipal governments with specific Tlicho characteristics. No NWT community operates any longer as a settlement and the Settlement Act has been repealed in the 16th Legislative Assembly.
The people involved in a municipal government fall into one of three different roles. These are the Mayor or Chief, Councillors and Administration. To work well together, each group needs to understand and fulfill its role and respect the roles of the others. The basic roles of each are as follows:
The Mayor or Chief has three roles to fill:
An individual Councillor does not possess any authority to make decisions or provide instructions. As a member of Council, a Councillor has several duties to perform, including:
The Administration is made up of the LGA and the staff that work for the municipal government. The LGA is hired by the Council to manage the day-to-day affairs of the municipal government.
Depending on the size of the community, the number of staff working for the municipal government can range from a few people to hundreds of people. Regardless of the community, it is important to note that the staff are hired by, and report to, the LGA. It is the LGA, not the Chief, Mayor or Councillors, who is responsible for directing and managing staff.
Additional information is available in the Community Councillors Handbook.
The basic role of the LGA is to make sure that the municipal government is meeting its obligations in keeping the community healthy and safe and providing the programs and services residents need. As such, the LGA essentially works as a manager within a political setting.
To fulfill their role, LGAs are expected to perform three critical functions:
The LGA serves as an advisor to Council. To do so, the LGA needs to be knowledgeable and up to date on rules, best practices and laws. If Council relies on incorrect information or poor advice, it may make mistakes that can have serious legal, financial or operational consequences for the community.
Different types of laws and best practices that an LGA must be aware of include:
An LGA provides information to Council so it can make informed decisions. The LGA does not tell Council what to decide but can point out whether Council has the authority to do something or how something must be done to ensure compliance with legislation, regulations, established policies and procedures, agreements or contracts.
An LGA also supports Council by conducting research on various issues, talking with officials in other levels of government and generally providing advice and guidance based on their experience.
An LGA serves as an administrator, carrying out Council’s instructions and managing the daily operations of the municipal government
In this capacity, the LGA makes daily operational decisions in the following areas of responsibility:
Much more detail on these topics is provided in Part 2 of the Handbook.
In order to know what powers and responsibilities a community government has, the Council and the LGA must be familiar with relevant legislation. This includes municipal legislation as well as numerous other statutes that influence or impact different aspects of municipal operations.
Municipal legislation includes the various acts that define the powers, authorities and responsibilities for each different type of community.
The legal status of a community is usually determined either by public request or on the initiative of the Minister of MACA. This means that a community can decide to alter its status. The four Tlicho communities are the exception as their statuses are now fixed in the Tlicho Agreement.
Each type of community government is established by, and gets its authority from, specific legislation. The acts mentioned below and their associated regulations spell out a municipal government’s authority and how it may operate. It is essential that a Council and the LGA be familiar with the provisions of the act and regulations that apply to their community.
These Indian Act Bands or First Nations are recognized as the primary authority in the community responsible for delivery of municipal services. Funding to deliver specific services is provided by federal or GNWT departments. Bands may borrow in areas where the federal government guarantees lending. They may also set their own election practices based on their custom practices.
See Differences in Community Government Structures for more information.
In addition to the acts that define a community government’s authority, there are a number of other GNWT Acts that influence different aspects of municipal operations, including:
1. Legislation from which municipalities draw authority:
2. Legislation that imposes responsibilities on municipalities: