Even without political parties to clarify things, the message Northwest Territories voters sent Monday night was unmistakable: Business as usual will not do.
Eight sitting MLAs lost their seats, including Jane Groenewegen in Hay River South and Michael Miltenberger in Thebacha, who were seeking unprecedented sixth terms in the Legislative Assembly. In the end, Groenewegen lost by nearly 100 votes and Miltenberger fell to longtime Fort Smith lawyer Louis Sebert.
Miltenberger's loss might have been the biggest surprise of the night. The finance and environment minister in the last government was basically the second most powerful figure in government, and would have been a contender for the premier's job, if he had been re-elected.
"There was an overall desire for change across the territory," Sebert told CBC shortly after his victory was confirmed. "I felt that early on when I went door to door. I think that people did credit and admire Michael for his many accomplishments, but they were looking for someone else to have a shot at it."
Elsewhere the casualties piled up:
- Kevin Menicoche, three-term MLA for Nahendeh, is gone.
- Jackie Jacobson in Nunakput, Speaker in the last assembly and embroiled in a late-breaking credit card scandal, is gone, pending the result of a recount.
- Dave Ramsay, once regarded as a sharp critic of government, was unceremoniously dumped by voters in Kam Lake after one term as a cabinet minister, in favour of 30-year-old newcomer Kieron Testart.
Reached by phone Monday night, Ramsay sounded at once stunned and crestfallen. "Kieron ran a good campaign and people didn't show up to vote. That's what happened."
"I think there's a bit of a hangover from the federal election where people wanted change and a lot of the new candidates were promoting change," he said. "They obviously got that tonight."
Even two MLAs who had been fiercely critical of the government during the last assembly found themselves on the losing end: Daryl Dolynny, a noted hawk on fiscal and transparency issues, lost a close race in Range Lake to Caroline Cochrane-Johnson. And Robert Hawkins lost by a fairly wide margin in Yellowknife Centre to Julie Green.
Those two will be the only women in the Legislative Assembly — so no improvement over the previous assembly, which also had two.
The surprise re-election in Deh Cho of Michael Nadli, who broke his wife's wrist in an altercation last spring, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and released after only eight, does not say great things about the place of women in N.W.T. politics.
'Sad to see them go'
The night for Bob McLeod, easily re-elected in his Yellowknife riding, despite a strong showing from another female challenger, Nigit'Stil Norbert, was bittersweet.
McLeod isn't exactly demonstrative about anything, but was pleased with his result, and empathized with the incumbents who lost.
"They're friends and colleagues and they work very hard on behalf of the people of the N.W.T.," he said. "I'm sad to see them go."
Asked if there was a message from the results, McLeod said something that is technically true but in reality utter nonsense: "It's consensus government, we all run as Independents."
In other words, no. Monday's vote was not a reflection of the job the last government did.
It is true that other incumbents — like Robert C. McLeod (no relation) and Alfred Moses in the two Inuvik seats, young Frederick Blake in Mackenzie Delta and Tom Beaulieu in Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh — are back in. But more than half of the candidates elected to this assembly have never served in the legislature before, which means there will likely be rookie MLAs in cabinet.
It will also be interesting to see how long it takes the next assembly to really get up to speed now that more than a third of the house is new to the daily grind of politics.
"This is a job I've never done before, so it's going to be a real steep learning curve," Julie Green of Yellowknife Centre said.
It's clear that the next government will have to get moving on the chief complaints of the challenging candidates — the cost of living, the question of high power costs, what form future economic development will take. Former premier Joe Handley said the previous government's bureaucratic, managerial style on those issues will not fly in the new assembly.
"We lost a lot of years of experience in the legislative assembly," he said. "It's a pretty sobering message for whoever is going to be the next premier. We have to have something different."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that only Bob McLeod, Robert C. McLeod and Tom Beaulieu remain from the previous executive. In fact, Jackson Lafferty and Glen Abernethy will also return to the assembly.Nov 24, 2015 11:26 AM CT