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Election 2015: The YK and South Slave Aftermath

Mark Rendell and Meagan Wohlberg take a close read of YK and South Slave results.
FRESH FACES: There’ll be a lot of new faces around the table when the legislative assembly meets to pick a government in the December. In 2011, there were 14 holdovers from the previous assembly; this time there will be eight. Only one incumbent was defeated in 2011, while eight went down on Monday night. As with the last assembly, there’s an unacceptably small number of woman, with two of 19 being elected in 2011 and 2015. 

The Yellowknife Ridings: low turnout, shocking upsets and a shift to the left

by Mark Rendell

After an evening of nailbitingly close races, Yellowknife woke up Tuesday morning with a slightly more leftward lilt. Of the city’s five new MLAs, three are solidly from the progressive side of the political spectrum, while the two other new faces could be best described as liberals.

Kevin O’Reilly, an environmental activist, Caroline Cochrane, the CEO of a women’s shelter and Julie Green, a former CBC reporter, all ran on social and environmental justice and platforms. Any concern among Yellowknife’s progressive partisans that they might be left voiceless with the departure of Bob Bromley and Wendy Bisaro can be put to rest.

In Yellowknife North, voters opted for centrist Cory Vanthuyne over his left-wing opponents Dan Wong and Ben Nind. But Vanthuyne, who had a reputation for fiscal conservatism while a city councillor, is nonetheless a proponent of downtown revitalization and environmental stewardship.

It was always going to be a close race between Wong and Vanthuyne, who both left their city council seats to seek higher office. But ultimately Vanthuyne’s victory was something of a surprise. Wong ran a slick, creative campaign both online and on the ground, but it seems likely that the 14 votes by which he lost were Old Town progressive votes sapped away from him by Ben Nind, Bob Bromleys’ former constituency assistant.

In Yellowknife Centre, veteran pol Robert Hawkins’ loss by a 90-vote margin put an end to the three-election success of his campaign machine, despite its intense use of social media and solid get-out-the-vote groundwork. Hawkins’ campaign had been the subject of controversy in the final weeks, but in the end, it appears YK Centre voters, like many across the territory, were simply in the mood for change. At least that’s what Green chalked it up to, when speaking to the CBC: “In the end, people want change and that’s what I felt they got.”

In a night full of tight races and surprise upsets, the biggest Yellowknife shocker was probably in Kam Lake, where ITI and Justice minister Dave Ramsay fell to 30-year-old Kieron Testart by roughly 80 votes. The win seems to be the result of lacklustre campaigning on Ramsay’s part and smart tactics by Testart.

Testart’s initial federal run for the Liberal Party, and then shift to seeking  territorial office, whether intentional or not, worked well. It gave him many months of additional media coverage and turned him from a complete unknown outside Liberal circles into a Yellowknife household name. His efforts to cost out his platform also likely appealed to business-minded Kam Lakers. Ultimately, though, it seems like voter turnout, the worst in the territory at only 25 percent, scuttled Ramsay. Testart was able to convince enough people to buy into his change-based platform and hit the polls, while Ramsay’s supporters, who had handed him overwhelming victories the last two elections, simply stayed home.

Daryl Dolynny’s loss by only 10 votes in Range Lake suggests a hard-fought battle that swung in Cochrane’s favour primarily due to a desire for change. Both candidates ran solid, slip-up free campaigns – but Cochrane, with both business experience and social justice credentials, may simply have appealed to a wider constituency. With such a slim victory margin, though, it would be a mistake to read too much into this.

The two YK incumbents who won, former premier Bob McLeod and former health and social services minister Glen Abernethy, were returned with solid leads of several hundred votes each. Newcomer Chris Clarke did little to dent Abernethy’s campaign. But Nigit’stil Norbert, the 30-year-old Indigenous woman who lit up debates with passionate arguments and pointed criticism of the status quo, did surprisingly well against one of the toughest opponents in the territory, garnering 179 votes in a riding that’s not particularly progressive. I doubt very much it’s the last time we’ll be hearing her name.

Still, despite the excitement of a night full of surprises, our democracy in Yellowknife was looking pretty frail. On average, across all seven ridings, only about 32 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Even the highest number, 44 percent in Yellowknife North, isn’t something to brag about. Perhaps it was voter fatigue after a marathon election season, but Yellowknife’s numbers were noticeably lower than the rest of the territory’s. Something to give us pause.

VOTER TURNOUT: This year may have seen a massive shift in terms of members elected, but with only 43.6 percent of eligible voters heading to the polls this year we shouldn’t be toasting our democratic health with too much verve. This was by far the lowest turnout we’ve seen over the past four elections. Numbers were especially low in Yellowknife where an average of 32 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots across all seven YK ridings.  

 

South Slave Ridings: votes get split and longtime incumbents fall

by Meagan Wohlberg

Detractors were quick to label veteran Thebacha MLA and cabinet minister Michael Miltenberger’s concession speech on Monday as awkward, uncomfortable and not quite conciliatory.

It was. But for a career politician just 40 votes shy of breaking the five-term record for MLAs in the Northwest Territories, nothing less than a palled look of shock and disappointment should have been expected — especially for anyone who knows the straight-shooting approach Miltenberger brought to politics.

In congratulating his contender — newly elected Louis Sebert, a long-serving lawyer in Fort Smith — Miltenberger said exactly what he thought had happened: Don Jaque split the vote, and other voters didn’t come out to support him.

He was right, on both claims. Almost every vote that was cast for Jaque likely would have been handed to Miltenberger had it been a two-candidate race. The two share remarkably similar priorities in terms of the environment, whether it be renewables, water or wildlife. Jaque stole that green-leaning vote.

Miltenberger was also correct on the voter turnout issue. Turnout was, indeed, down compared to the last two elections. Of the possible 1,846 electors in Thebacha, barely half (937) voted in Monday’s election, compared to 1,215 votes in 2011 and 1,172 in 2007.

With a race jokingly referred to as the “battle of the sexegenarians,” it could be that a lack of fresh faces and ideas didn’t attract enough people to the polls this round.

Over in Hay River, voter turnout didn’t seem to be as big a factor in the demise of fellow 20-year MLA Jane Groenewegen, who lost to former Hay River Metis Council president Wally Schumann by almost 100 votes.

What stood out in Hay River was the massive turnout in the advance polls, which typically favours challengers over incumbents. Also of interest is that two non-Indigenous incumbents in Hay River were knocked out by two Indigenous candidates. One of those was the young Rocky Simpson in Hay River North, who took an early lead against incumbent Robert Bouchard and held tight throughout the evening, winning by 80 votes.

Voters complained during the Hay River campaign that not enough had improved over the last 20 years in terms of bringing down the cost of living and improving the economy. It’s likely they were looking for a fresh start with a focus on jobs and small business, as Schumann and Simpson both made priorities.

In Nahendeh, a large number of strong Indigenous candidates had the opposite effect; many similar campaigns run by well-known candidates like Randy Sibbeston, Deneze Nakehk’o, Rose Mary Gill and incumbent Kevin Menicoche — just four out of the seven running — split the vote for Shane Thompson to be elected.

But there were no surprises in Tu Nedhe Wiilideh, with cabinet minister Tom Beaulieu returning to his seat with a landslide victory over challenger Richard Edjericon, former chair of the Mackenzie Valley Review Board. With experienced MLAs and ministers at a premium in the 18th Assembly and Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson out by four votes, some are already speculating Beaulieu could be a strong contender for the Speaker position if he doesn’t hang on to the infrastructure portfolios. And voters’ fears about the loss of the Chipewyan language from the legislature can be put to bed, with Beaulieu’s fluency in the language.