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Territorial Government

Because the territories have no authority to govern under our Constitution, the official head of a territorial government is the federally appointed Commissioner.  However, in recent years the Commissioner has become more like a Lieutenant Governor: the Commissioner gives final approval to legislation passed by elected members, but leaves the major decision-making up to the elected members.

Territorial government differs from provincial government in other ways as well.  The leader of the cabinet is called the Government Leader, although the job is very similar to a Premier's.  

In the Northwest Territories, all candidates run as Independents.  Consequently, elections are not won by parties, so party leaders do  not automatically become the Government Leaders.  Instead, the whole Legislative Assembly elects the Government Leader, who appoints the cabinet (called the Executive Council) from among all Members of the Legislative Assembly.  

Nunavut also has no political parties at the territorial level, instead operating on the basis of consensus politics. The Nunavut system of government is very similar to the Northwest Territories' but with the Legislative Assembly electing the cabinet, speaker and premier for the territory.

The Yukon Legislative Assembly, on the other hand, is much like a provincial Assembly.  Yukon has adopted the party system, under which the Government Leader is the leader of the party holding the most seats in the elected Assembly and appoints cabinet ministers from among the elected members of that party.  Yukon's Government Leader and ministers together make up the government.  

A territory's areas of responsibility are similar to those of a province.


Reprinted from Teacher's Guide to the Alberta Legislature, 1993 with permission from the Legislative Assembly Office.

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