With orientation beginning today, the 19 newly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly will have a couple of weeks to take it all in before casting secret ballots for their choice as the new speaker and premier of the Northwest Territories.
After an election that spelled the end of several incumbent’s runs, 11 new faces will take their seats in the chamber, forming the territory’s 18th Legislative Assembly.
Before picking the names to take on the various portfolios under the government of the Northwest Territories, MLAs will first establish a list of priorities for their term. Issues such as the Dehcho Process would understandably be on that list, as well as the need to grapple with the high cost of living, the decentralization of government jobs, and population growth (or lack thereof) in the territory. Each department will also have its own list of priorities to cross off, with a few ministers heading straight into the trenches.
Based on priorities set out by the Standing Committee on Procedures and Planning of the 17th Legislative Assembly, the experience MLAs are bringing to the table, and a little bit of rumour, the following is a best guess prediction of who will make up the next cabinet:
Bob McLeod – Yellowknife South
Though several names have been thrown into the mix – Jackson Lafferty, Glen Abernethy and Robert C. McLeod among them – another era of Premier Bob McLeod is quite possibly before us.
Prior to being named premier in the 17th Assembly, McLeod held the key portfolio of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI). Now that former ITI Minister David Ramsay has been unseated by newcomer Kieron Testart in Kam Lake, that position has been relinquished. With challenging markets affecting a mining industry that’s still so vital to the territory’s economy, and no oil and gas development in the cards, this appointment could be more critical than ever, putting it potentially back into experienced hands.
Tom Beaulieu – Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh
The former Transportation and Public Works minister is reclaiming his position in the newly named and distributed riding of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. But with several potentials for the infrastructure category, perhaps Beaulieu could be the MLAs’ choice for Speaker of the Legislative Assembly – assuming the role from Jackie Jacobson, who lost his position in the Nunakput riding to Herb Nakimayak.
Jackson Lafferty – Monfwi
The former Education minister and deputy premier won his seat by acclamation and subsequently was one of the earliest names thrown around to take the top job of premier in the 18th Assembly. This is certainly still a possibility should the trend toward change sweep McLeod out of the Premier’s chair, but either way, Lafferty is a likely candidate for cabinet.
Education, Culture and Employment is a key portfolio and the Standing Committee on Procedures and Planning expressed serious concerns over the slow progress of the Education Renewal Initiative, possibly calling for an intervention in the next Legislative Assembly. Between this and the pressure of overseeing a successful junior kindergarten roll-out, the man with the most recent experience on the file could be called back in. At least it’s unlikely an inexperienced minister will be tasked with the file.
Should the premier take on the major file of ITI, Lafferty could also be in the running to add Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations to his posting.
Glen Abernethy – Great Slave
The Health and Social Services is arguably the biggest file in cabinet, and the 17th Assembly once again showcased that with the new Mental Health Act being a hot topic particularly in the last year, as well as the absence of a territorial treatment centre. While the weighty portfolio would be a hard sell on a minister new to cabinet – not to mention the Legislative Assembly – the system-wide restructuring effort that’s currently underway could drive the decision to keep the experienced and proven minister in his seat. Whether health or a different portfolio, Abernethy is likely a safe bet for cabinet.
Robert C. McLeod – Inuvik Twin Lakes
The defeat of veteran minister Michael Miltenberger leaves several major portfolios open, perhaps the weightiest of them being Finance. R. C. McLeod is among the more experienced ministers, having been elected more than a decade ago, and possibly the choice to take on this file. In addition, the department of Justice will need a new lead with a strong backbone, with its previous minister Ramsay taking serious heat when an Auditor General report put the territorial system in rather unappealing light. McLeod could be the one for the job.
Herb Nakimayak – Nunakput
Though a first-time MLA, Nakimayak has served as coucillor for the Hamlet of Paulatuk and worked in conjunction with the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. – a significant power in the Beaufort Delta. With two members of cabinet selected from the North Slave ridings, and R. C. McLeod likely to be re-appointed, a possible move to spread the votes outside of Inuvik will see Nunakput get another nod, this time toward Jackie Jacobson’s replacement.
Through his extensive work with Parks Canada and promotion of traditional ways of life, the first-time MLA could be given a shot as minister of Environment and Natural Resources. The question is, with the high cost of power being a top priority of the government and continued discussions around the Northwest Territories Power Corp.’s plans to expropriate Northland Utilities, will responsibility over the territory’s crown power corporation also be handed down to a rookie minister?
Caroline Cochrane-Johnson – Range Lake
One of just two women elected to the 18th Assembly despite continued calls for equal representation, Cochrane-Johnson’s significant experience in both business and social work – particularly her role in bringing the Centre for Northern Families in Yellowknife out of $300,000 in debt – gives her an impressive resume that could lead to cabinet appointment.
Tasked with both supporting and working with community governments, Cochrane-Johnson’s experience in social services could be a significant benefit to the department of Municipal and Community Affairs. With a new funding formula for communities in the works, her experience in finances and proven track record are certainly assets. Also previously held by R. C. McLeod, the department of Lands could be an additional responsibility of the new minister.
Wally Schumann – Hay River South
The Hay River businessman ousted one of the territory’s longest-ever-serving MLAs, Jane Groenewegen, showing significant support in his region. With two cabinet positions open to members from the South Slave regions, Schumann could be a popular pick. The portfolios of Public Works and Services, Transportation and Human Resources, previously held by Beaulieu, are likely to go to one of the newer ministers. But with the promise of significant infrastructure spending from the federal government in the coming term, it will be an important role. In addition to growing and operating a successful business, Schumann’s experience on the Hay River Metis Government Council and Chamber of Commerce bolster his case for appointment.◉
Photo credit: Jean Gagnon (CC)