Caroline Cochrane becomes Canada’s only female premier

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Premier-elect Caroline Cochrane shares a moment with Mabel Brown of Inuvik moments after her election.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Caroline Cochrane was voted premier of the Northwest Territories Thursday.

“Together we make a stronger government,” the Range Lake MLA said. “We will make this next four years the most progressive in the NWT.”

Caroline Cochrane enjoys her win on Thursday morning. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Cochrane’s selection by her fellow MLAs followed three rounds of voting that saw Thebacha MLA Freida Martselos dropped in the first round and Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson dropped after the second. Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty lost the final vote, ceding the election to Cochrane.

Cochrane is now the only female premier in Canada, and the second in NWT history, following Nellie Cournoyea who served in the role from 1991 to 1995.

Speaking to reporters after her election, she said “we used to be the last. We used to be the in the worst place, and now we’re at the top place

“It’s all about role modelling. The more women that actually get elected into any kind leadership position, it shows the younger women and the women around us that they can do it too,” she said.

Cochrane said she was “surprised” that the premiership returned to Yellowknife but that it was “time for a woman to be at the table.”

In her acceptance speech, Cochrane vowed hers will be one of the most progressive governments in recent memory. “That means balance,” she said to reporters later. “It means not only putting your money into infrastructure and economy.

“Jobs are part of the answer but not the only answer,” she said. “I”m hopeful we’ll have a more balanced government and we’ll be looking at people, infrastructure, and programs in the same light. It’s about balance.”

She also promised more resources for education, which she said was in need of major reform as the department’s minister in August.

Cochrane also pledged to mandate her cabinet ministers to engage with small communities and stakeholders.

“We are servants of the people, we are not gods over the people,” she said, adding that “the peoples’ voices needs to determine the direction of government.”

After emerging from three rounds of split votes to become premier, Cochrane said she would work to collaborate with other members and include regular MLAs in the legislative process.

“We have a circular assembly. We have to honour that,” she said.

Four women elected to cabinet

With the premier selected, a crowded field vied for cabinet seats.

As per assembly rules, two MLAs were selected from the North: Inuvik Boot Lake’s Diane Thom and the Sahtu’s Paulie Chinna; from the south were chosen Hay River North’s R.J. Simpson and Nahendeh’s Shane Thompson; and from Yellowknife, Great Slave’s Katrina Nokleby and Yellowknife South’s Caroline Wawzonek.

MLAs who sought a cabinet post but weren’t selected included Frame Lake’s Kevin O’Reilly, Yellowknife Centre’s Julie Green, Nunakput’s Jackie Jacobson, Thebacha’s Frieda Martselos and Deh Cho’s Ronald Bonnetrouge,

Blake acclaimed speaker

Earlier in the day, Frederick Blake Jr. of Mackenzie Delta was acclaimed as the new speaker of the legislative assembly.

As the only member to put his name forward for the position, Blake promised to engage with smaller communities to share the value of the consensus government.

He told Yellowknifer, as Speaker, he aims to travel more to the communities and visit schools to educate youth on consensus government. While suggestions of party politics may emerge occasionally after a election, he said, “it’s pretty certain that this is the best style of government for the Northwest Territories. And we need to encourage that.”

Frederick Blake Jr. meets with the press following his acclamation. Nick Pearce/NNSL Photo

“Everyone has a voice in this legislature,” Blake said. ”It’s not like parties where you have to tow the line.”

He said this leaves MLAs better equipped to represent their constituents and he aims to support that.

Blake said his “door was always open. Any way I can support our members and work well with them.”.

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