Who Is Our Next Premier?

Former premier Nick Sibbeston might not have been Mr. Perfect per say, but he’s certainly Mr. Average – for an NWT premier, at least.

A typical NWT premier, according to our data dive is male, of Indigenous background (only two — George Braden and Dennis Patterson — have been non-Indigenous), represents a region from South Great Slave, is married, and is younger than the national norm for political careers. Of the 11 premiers since 1980 so far, Nick Sibbeston is the previous office-holder who most closely aligned with this common profile. 

Of the possible future premiers floating around the political scene, the candidate who most closely fits this profile is Jackson Lafferty, currently Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. How do we figure that out? The in-no-way wildly speculative answer lies below;

(And ahoy, history buffs, just to be clear: the very first NWT premier, technically, was Frederick Haultain — an English-born lawyer who contributed to the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and held the title informally from 1897 until 1905 — but it wasn’t until 1994 that the contemporary title of premier was used officially, replacing the term “Government Leader” retroactively back to George Braden’s term in office.)


Here are the modern premiers of the NWT, in chronological order: 

George Braden — 1980 – 1984
Richard Nerysoo — 1984 – 1985
Nick Sibbeston — 1985 – 1987
Dennis Patterson  1987- 1991
Nellie Cournoyea — 1991 – 1995
Donny Morin 1995 – 1998
Jim Antoine 1998 – 2000
Stephen Kakfwi — 2000 – 2003
Joe Handley — 2003 – 2007
Floyd Roland — 2007 – 2011
Bob McCleod – 2011 – Present

Premiers are generally getting older. While the average age at taking office is still 45, the premiership once veered much younger — Richard Nerysoo was elected at the age of 31 in 1984. After him, most premiers were over 40 years old when elected, with Joe Handley being the oldest premier at 60. This is either a sign that our political scene is maturing, or becoming increasingly sclerotic. At any rate, Lafferty turns 47 in October of this year, well within range. 

Incidentally,  a solid majority of our premiers have been homegrown. Seventy-three percent were born in the NWT, leaving three from out-of-territory, specifically: George Braden (Rosthern, Saskatchewan), Dennis Patterson (Vancouver, BC) and Joe Handley (Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan). Lafferty was born in Gamètì.

A majority of NWT premiers also came from political backgrounds before entering office. Five out of the 11 came to the office as politicians or politically engaged citizens, while the rest were in fields such as business, law, or from the ranks of the bureaucracy. Most continued in politics or entered business after they left office. Lafferty has been in the legislative assembly since a hotly-contested 2005 by-election. Before that? Well, here’s his official bio: 

“Prior to being elected to the 15th Assembly, Mr. Lafferty worked as a Superintendent of Participation Agreements with Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. His other previous work experience includes: Community Development & Empowerment Coordinator for the Government of the Northwest Territories, Administrator for the Rae-Edzo School Society, Assistant Manager for the Rae-Edzo Dene Band Development Corporation, and Community Liaison for Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.”

Another huge factor Lafferty has going for him, despite the fact that it’s 2016? He’s a man.

It’s no shocker that most NWT premiers have been male — with the notable exception of Nellie Cournoyea, the first and only female premier so far, from 1991-1995. No shocker, but still, not right. The issue of gender inequity in politics is made especially stark at the level of premier, but it’s endemic throughout NWT politics. 

A record 10 female candidates ran for MLA in last year’s election, but only two made it in to the 19-member assembly on voting day: “Things are particularly bleak for indigenous women from the smaller communities,” Laura Busch wrote for EDGE in the 2015 election aftermath. “There has not been a female MLA elected outside of Yellowknife and Hay River since Manitok Catherine Thompson from Rankin Inlet represented the Aivillik riding after the 1995 election — before the Northwest Territories split from Nunavut. To find an example from a region still part of the NWT, we must go back to 1991, when Nellie Cournoyea became the second female premier in Canadian history.”


Lafferty was in fact, hotly tipped the become premier after the 2015 elections, but ended up not challenging for the office — in a decision that was most likely in no way connected to any kind of intense behind-the-scenes horse-wrangling and favour-trading — leaving current office-holder Bob McLeod to an unprecedented second term. Unless McLeod decides to make himself Dear Eternal Supreme Leader anytime soon, or the territory’s political gender imbalance rights itself drastically, Lafferty looks like a lock. At least, statistically speaking. Unless Alfred Moses gets married, anyway. 

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