Politics
Mark Rendell

Old and new: meet your territorial government

McLeod earns a first-ever second term as premier of a cabinet filled with fresh faces.

After a final day of speech-making and ballot boxes in the political marathon that was 2015, we have a territorial government led once again by Bob McLeod though populated with new faces.

The cabinet, elected yesterday by all 19 MLAs after three rounds of secret voting, is a unique blend of new and status quo: McLeod’s at the head for an unprecedented second term, but of the six cabinet ministers, only two are from the last cabinet and three are brand new to the assembly altogether.

At first blush, this cabinet seems remarkably fresh and full of talent; and with the territory’s economic outlook darkening, let’s hope that turns out to be the case! As Glen Abernethy put it: “Anybody who thinks we’re going to have an easy time is out of their minds.”

Here’s a quick look at the team assembled to lead the territory through the coming years, with some brief thoughts on who might get what portfolio.

The North

Robert C McLeod

Riding: Inuvik Twin Lakes

Political Experience: Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and the Department of lands; Aklavik Town Councillor

Potential portfolios: MACA, Housing Corp.

Robert C McLeod is one of just two returning ministers (premier aside) and will likely play an important role teaching incoming cabinet members the decision-making ropes. Having ministerial experience, he could well land one of the more high-profile portfolios – Finance, Education, Health – though his speech from Monday suggests he may want to continue helming the MACA and the Housing Corp. as he’s done for the last two assemblies.

His stated priorities include reversing the decline of CMHC funding to invest more in public housing and putting more of an emphasis on improving senior’s housing. He also spoke about ensuring sufficient funding for municipalities: “We heard this weekend that they feel that they need $40 million to address their community needs, and we recognize that, and we will have to identify that funding and work to get that funding to pass it on to the communities.”

Alfred Moses

Riding: Inuvik Boot Lake

Political Experience: Regular MLA, Inuvik Town Councillor

Potential portfolios: Health and Social Services, Education

It’s Moses’ first time on cabinet, but being one of only three experienced MLAs, he’s got a good shot at landing a prominent portfolio. Given his background in health promotion (leading tobacco cessation campaigns and developing occupational health standards, among other things), Health and Social Services seems like an obvious fit. As he explained in his speech yesterday: “Every job that I have had, I was able to work with great people throughout the North with one common goal in mind: help people and improve their health and well-being.” And his speech on Monday, though wide-ranging, made special note of the importance of dealing with mental health and addictions, which he called “the biggest cost-driver for this government.”

Yellowknife

Glen Abernethy

Riding: Yellowknife, Great Slave

Political Experience: Minister of Human Resources, Justice, Public Work & Services, Health and Social Services

Potential portfolios: Health and Social Services, Finance  

After being shut out of the premiership, Abernethy’s reelection to cabinet seemed a sure thing; he’s a popular figure in the assembly, if not quite popular enough to nab the best seat in the house.

“I’m curious what portfolio I’m going to get,” he said after the election. “I really enjoyed my time in Health. It was an incredibly important file; it was an important file to me. But the premier is going to have to look at the bench strength coming in.”

If Abernethy doesn’t head back to HSS (Moses and Cochrane seem strong contenders for this file) he could be looking at Finance, not so much because of his background, but because of his experience relative to the other cabinet members; Finance is frequently considered the second-most senior position on cabinet after premier, so perhaps a fitting spot for the near-premier.

Caroline Cochrane, MLA for Range Lake

Riding: Yellowknife, Range Lake

Political Experience: First time holding public office

Potential portfolios: Health and Social Services, Environment and Natural Resources

Although it’s Caroline Cochrane’s first time holding public office, her background in social work and experience running several women’s shelters would make her a good fit for the HSS file and perhaps minister in charge of the Housing Corp. In her priorities speech she noted, among other things, that, “The NWT is only as strong as its weakest members. Within the North we are seriously lacking support for marginalized populations including homeless people, seniors, people living with disabilities, low-income families, those suffering with addictions and those with mental health concerns.”

During her campaign, and again in her speech on Monday, she emerged as a strong advocate for “water monitoring, alternative energy, public consultation on land issues that are critical such as fracking, preservation of wildlife such as the caribou,” among other things — all which suggest she could be become Environment minister.

The South

Wally Schumann

Riding: Hay River South

Political Experience: President of the Hay River Metis Government Council

Potential portfolios: Industry, tourism and investment

Hay River businessperson Wally Schumann seems a shoo in for Industry, Tourism and Investment, being a successful businessman himself and a former director of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce.

“The livelihood of our local business communities have a direct impact on each and every person in the NWT,” he said yesterday. “It impacts jobs, it impacts family incomes, it impacts the cost of living and it impacts the amount of money we can reinvest in our communities.”

During his speech, he spoke about the importance of innovation and highlighted, among other things, his work with the NWT Chamber of Mines and Aboriginal Participation Committee “to help me give my voice to my community by sharing some of the real impacts on resource development on our businesses, youth and our communities.”

Louis Sebert

Riding: Thebacha

Political Experience: Fort Smith Town Councillor

Potential portfolios: Justice

A lawyer for more than 40 years, Louis Sebert seems the natural choice for Justice minister. “Apart from appearing in all levels of court in the Northwest Territories,” he said during his sales pitch yesterday, “I have served on the Human Rights Adjudication Panel, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal, Employment Standards Board and Legal Services Board. I was also involved in assisting clients in collective agreements.”

Would he like to be justice minister? “I don’t have any particular opinions about it, obviously that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years, but we’ll see,” he said after the election.

Having been a long-time instructor at Aurora College, he may also be a good fit for the Education file; or perhaps Finance, having chaired the audit committee for the board of the NWT Power Corp.