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Hopefully, when the session opens in the Legislative Assembly today, an apology is tabled or issued or expressed by the ordinary MLAs, first to Minister Katrina Nokleby, secondly to the people of the NWT.

Last week’s disruptive attempt to oust Nokleby would have been extraordinary in ordinary times but should have been unthinkable in the midst of a pandemic.

It was especially disappointing after watching these same disgruntled MLAs in a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon with Nokleby and her department, Industry, Tourism and Investment, discussing the real issues plaguing the people outside their walls – the faltering economy with all the bad it is going to bring, a struggling education system, the existing problems of a hugely unemployed and marginalized Indigenous population made worse. You can see the full discussion here.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos gave a succinct analysis of different types of construction contracts, pushing not just for Indigenous involvement but for involvement of Northern business. Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland asked out of the 87 percent of government contracts awarded to Northern business, how many Northerners were actually given jobs instead of imported southern workers. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly spoke on the merits of proposed infrastructure projects, lamenting the length of time – he predicts 11 years total – for the environmental assessment of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway. He followed that by urging Minister Nokleby to focus on getting decent internet into the communities and asked her department to do more to help small business.

Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge requested the level of Indigenous employment in the GNWT’s infrastructure department, using his own experience to illustrate the difficulty of Indigenous staff getting promotions, even interviews for senior positions. He questioned the benefits coming to his constituency from the Deh Cho Bridge project. Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty delved into the details of the Tlicho Road contracts, asking how his region is benefitting, pointing out vague practices that don’t deliver on promises of jobs and benefits for his constituents. There were many such questions posed by the other ordinary MLAs, all doing their jobs in impressive fashion. Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson even asked Nokleby how she was going to handle the “Old Boys Club” operating in her department. 

Elected MLAs for the 19th legislative assembly take their oaths during a special ceremony on Friday Oct. 11, 2019.

Any one of these MLAs is cabinet material but there can only be so many cabinet ministers. The strength of consensus is based upon the abilities, experience and integrity of the MLAs not in cabinet, to defend those of us not in government, the people.

In her answers to changing the contract system, never before have we heard such frank discussion of the ‘Old Boys Club’ in and out of government, with Nokleby talking about people who “game” the system and “the bait and switch of, ‘oh, we’ve got these people’ and then, ‘oh, now we’ve got the contract we’re going to hire these people.'” She committed to instructing her staff to start answering their emails. May seem a small matter but to those people attempting to seek assistance or do business with the government, an unanswered email can be excruciating limbo.  

In the end, the attempt to remove Minister Nokleby was nothing more than a workplace gripe. The veteran MLAs who backed it should be ashamed, if not for alarming an already alarmed electorate, then for being so politically inept as to take a run at a strong minister. If they were a scraggly pack of hungry wolves chasing after swift caribou, they would still be hungry. Over 1,500 Northerners were so distressed, they signed a petition demanding Nokleby stay. Many, many more confused Northerners asked: “Why?”, “Why now?” 

“Poor communication,” MLAs complained about the minister. Well, unlike the rest of us working people, they can stand in the assembly and lambaste their ‘managers’ without much legal restraint, nor fear of being fired, then sit back down having done their job. Only Yellowknife North Rylund Johnson had the good sense to get out in front of the political blunder at the 11th hour Thursday night.

But the crisis we face is not about you MLAs, it’s about the pain coming to the people of the NWT. Apologize, offer up tangible proof you are fully committed to the job, common courtesy, and get busy mitigating the severe and lasting symptoms COVID-19 brings to the NWT.

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Bruce Valpy

Bruce Valpy is publisher of Northern News Services Ltd. He can be reached at 1-867-766-8228 or valpy@nnsl.com.

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