Dust is still settling from the NWT election but newly elected MLAs are wasting no time preparing for the 19th legislative assembly.
For veterans and newcomers alike, the top priority is establishing better communication and establishing a more manageable agenda.
“I feel happy the constituency allowed me to serve another four years and that they believe in me,” said Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty, now on his fourth consecutive term and seeking the premier’s chair. “I’m looking forward to working with the newly elected members.”
With two endorsements for the top spot already (Nunakput’s Jackie Jacobson and Nahendeh’s Shane Thompson), Lafferty said he took advantage of his acclamation to attend a number of election forums and get a wider perspective on the issues facing the North.
He said MLAs would meet up this coming week for orientation and to establish priorities. Then, on Oct. 18, nominations for the executive positions will be declared. The premier, speaker of the house and cabinet elected by secret ballot on Oct. 24, though MLAs could decide to make the ballot public if they wish. The legislature will sit the next day.
Lafferty said his 14 years of experience, including several ministry portfolios, make him a strong pick for the job.
“In the last four years, as a speaker of the House I have been listening to both sides of the cabinet and the regular members. There’s been a lot of frustration,” he said. “In the past, I created partnerships with First Nations governments on education initiatives. We need to start building partnerships in and outside of the Northwest Territories.
“We all have a common vision for healthy, educated communities, so that will be my area of interest going forward.”
Newcomer Steve Norn, representing Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, said he was humbled to be selected from a pool of five candidates. He attributed his ability to speak to elders in Dënesųłiné and his emphasis on door knocking has helped him edge out the competition with 36 per cent of the vote.
“You don’t do this by yourself, you are at the mercy of the voters,” he said, noting his constituency had the second highest voter turnout in the election. “I’m very proud of that. It goes to show how passionate we are in our riding.”
He said he was holding back on a preference for premier until he met with all the nominees but was not shy about his priorities.
“A big part of my platform is to make sure the Akaitcho Treaty 8 and other treaties are signed in my term,” he said. “There’s so much at stake, in terms of business and employment opportunities. There’s all kinds of implications that stem from these being ratified, so I would like to see it finished.”
Aside from treaties and bringing down the cost of living in the communities, he added his other main priority was establishing a treatment centre in the North for addictions counselling and recovery.
Jackie Jacobson reclaimed his seat in a competitive, six-way race in Nunakput as incumbent Herb Nakimayak went down in defeat. Jacobson received 231 votes, while Nakimayak followed with 143. Annie Steen, 127, Holly Campbell, 107, Sheila Nasogaluak, 101, and Alisa Blake, 48.
Jacobson had served two terms between 2007 and 2015, and was speaker during the second term. In 2015, Nakimayak defeated Jacobson in a 229 to 225 vote.
“I am ecstatic and ready,” Jacobson said Oct. 4. “The campaign went really well and it was clean. All six of us candidates wanted the best for the riding. I have a lot of good to say about the candidates and all wanting change in regards to helping the people in Nunakput.
“Herb did a good job in the four years that he was there and I have nothing but respect for him. No matter what anyone says, it is easy to judge an MLA, but less so if you put your name forward.”
Jacobson said he intends to support Jackson Lafferty for premier and will be putting his name forward for a cabinet position, largely due to his eight years as an MLA and local governance experience in Tuktoyakuk. Jacobson is a former mayor of the hamlet and has also sat on the hamlet council and served with the local education district authority.
Jacobson said he wants to ensure there is a strong voice for his electoral district and issues, which include severe housing shortages, the absence of a long-term elders facility in Ulukaktok and a lack of family-sized homes throughout the region. He also said there is a need to address the high cost of living and for the Northern and Stanton’s stores to address high prices.
In the Sahtu, Daniel McNeely, who was elected in 2015, was unseated by Paulie Chinnie, a first-time candidate and the firs- ever woman elected in for the district.
Chinna took 309 votes, followed by McNeely at 287, Wilfred McNeely Jr., 120, and Caroline Yukon, 135.
“I was quite surprised,” she said. “With all of the campaigning that I had done, I felt I was received very respectfully in the communities.
“When running in the election I think there was always the feeling like I was not doing enough or that I could do a lot more.”
Chinna said as a first-time candidate she wants to make sure her full focus on issues in the Sahtu, including the need for advancing the Tulita bridge project, bringing education and training dollars into the community and getting support for an Indigenous led, on-the-land addictions treatment centre.
She said she will not be running for speaker, premier or cabinet and still needs time to decide as to whom she will choose and whether or not she will publicly disclose the vote ahead of time.
“I haven’t decided and there are several names around but I haven’t finalized,” she said. “So I’m not quite sure because it will be a very new government and I really want to attend talks and meetings to look at what the interests and what do they want to see in territories for next four years.”
Chinna said she is looking forward to working with the other female MLAs who she believes will bring a “different perspective” to challenges in the Sahtu.
In the Dehcho, Ronald Bonnetrouge unseated Michael Nadli in a two-way race. Bonnetrouge had 283 votes versus Nadli’s 253.
Bonnetrouge said there was a feeling of “elation” when the results came in late Tuesday.
“We got the final tally and it was elation and happiness that the whole campaign period was over and done with,” Bonnetrouge said.
“There was basically the sentiment from the people that they wanted to see some change and fresh outlook.”
Bonnetrouge said he wants to ensure small communities and First Nations peoples of the NWT have a stronger voice on issues, such as education. He said he is concerned about the lack of input from Indigenous people in the polytechnic university and that the education system is reviewed so that it is serving people better. This means ensuring that there are strong life-skills taught like shop, home economy, cooking traditional foods and money management.
“I want to push that we have a total review of the education system and that we go as a government to communities and grassroots and really get a good view of what they want – not just want someone from the south wants to see,” he said.
As for the university, Bonnetrouge, said he is not totally against it, but wants to ensure his people are properly served and that the GNWT isn’t throwing good money after bad.
“The last minister was really harping on about a university – well nobody asked my opinion,” he said, adding down south there are several institutions set up already and that it will be a challenge not only starting a university, but filling it with people, including those outside of the NWT.
Bonnetrouge said he has not considered who he will support for premier but said he is at least considering running for cabinet after consulting with respected leaders in his community.
Bonnetrouge said he is not intending to disclose his choice for premier and cabinet ahead of his vote.
Shane Thompson was one of the few MLAs to retain his seat in the election and he took the second highest number of votes of any candidate across the territory with 536. He was in a four-way race against Mike Drake, 190, Randal Sibbeston, 111, and Eric Menicoche, 40.
“It was good and I had felt confident going in,” Thompson said when asked of his reaction to the results. “Basically the support system that I had was there and showed up on voting day.”
Thompson concurs with other candidates that small communities need a bigger voice in this session of the legislative assembly. His key concerns are going to continue to be addressing housing conditions and shortages, as well as the need for better employment and retaining jobs.
Thompson was one of the first to name his choice of premier – Jackson Lafferty – during the campaign.
“To me it was very important to get that out because it has a huge impact on what we are trying to do,” Thompson said, adding he is listening to a numbers leaders in his region and said that Lafferty, from Monfwi, represents a small community and understands the issues they face.
“The thing was that in the last cabinet there was nobody from small communities.”
He said he is going to run for a cabinet position as he has been asked to do so by leaders he has a consulted in Nahendeh.
In Thebacha, Lou Sebert, justice minister during the last term, was unseated by Frieda Martselos.
Martselos ended up with 504 votes, followed by Denise Yuhas at 454, Don Jaque, 139, and Lou Sebert with 70. A message was left with Martselos but she did not return a call by press time.