Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins’ motion to hold a plebiscite on fracking in the Northwest Territories has been defeated in the legislature.

Hawkins wanted a public vote on whether any fracking should take place in the territory, calling that the “most important ideological question of our time”.

His motion asked for a plebiscite to be held alongside the territorial election on November 23, posing the simple question: “Should hydraulic fracturing be permitted in the Northwest Territories?”

Full text: Robert Hawkins’ motion calling for a fracking plebiscite (pdf)

The result of that public vote, if one took place, would be merely indicative and would not bind the territorial government to any action.

“This is not a question about has it been done right or has it not been done right,” said Hawkins.

“This is a question about what type of northern development do we want here. This issue, honestly, will define a generation, like climate change.”

However, only Bob Bromley and Michael Nadli supported Hawkins’ plan.

“This is a straightforward, low-cost motion to seek the public’s view on fracking,” said Bromley.

Alfred Moses and Robert Bouchard were among MLAs claiming a public vote would be skewed by Yellowknife’s large population and leave regional voices unheard.

Norman Yakeleya and Daryl Dolynny were opposed, as was the seven-member cabinet. Premier Bob McLeod said the issue could not be reduced to such a simple question.

“I have no problem at all standing up to represent the views of my riding and the people I serve,” said Dolynny. “To cloud this ability in any form – and to resolve our proceedings by plebiscite or even a referendum, for that matter – questions the very system that I hold true.”

McLeod added: “This government understands that the protection of the land, water and environment matters to northerners. It matters to us, too.

“Our system already provides good tools for managing development in the Northwest Territories with ongoing input from the public. We should continue to rely on that system and focus on making it better.

“A plebiscite is not the best way to do that. Plebiscites are not binding. They are simply tools used to gauge public support. They are not the only tool to do that and they certainly are not the most cost-effective.”

Hawkins, arguing in favour of his motion, asked why the territory had the legal option of holding a plebiscite if it were not exercised over contentious issues like fracking.

An earlier motion to place a moratorium on fracking, led by Weledeh MLA Bromley, also failed. Bromley’s motion was defeated by 11 votes to five, with two members absent.