Elections NWT says legislature has delayed October election over wildfires

INUVIK, N.W.T. — Members of the Northwest Territories legislature unanimously voted Monday to delay an election scheduled for October because of wildfires.

"It's unprecedented times," said Kevin O'Reilly, member for Frame Lake. "It's not going to be possible for us to hold fair elections as originally planned."

O'Reilly noted about 70 per cent of the territory's population is now under evacuation, affecting most of its constituencies.

Although fire officials said Monday that two large blazes that have been threatening the territorial capital are now being held, it's still not yet safe for people to return.

“This is awesome news and we are all really, really happy to hear this,” said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager. “It doesn’t mean the risk is gone yet.”

The new date for the N.W.T. election will be Nov. 14. The territory had been scheduled to go to the polls on Oct. 3.

The members of the territorial legislature made the decision in an extraordinary session held in Inuvik instead of the territorial capital of Yellowknife, now evacuated by nearby wildfires. With most members attending via Zoom, they rushed through all three readings of the bill in a single sitting.

The legislature also pushed forward an extra $75-million special assessment for firefighting in the territory. The current N.W.T. firefighting budget is about $22 million.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the quadrupled firefighting budget should be enough, but cautioned that the $75-million request was based on calculations made 10 days ago.

"Things have changed significantly," she said.

"Hopefully, (the money) will get us through to the end of this fire period. Nothing about this fire season has been typical so far."

Wawzonek acknowledged in the legislature the unanticipated spending will have an effect on the territory's finances. She said firefighting and other expenses as a result of the wildfires will use up the territory's $34-million reserve.

"That will be more than depleted," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2023.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon.

The Canadian Press