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North West Territories Votes 2003
North West Territories Legislature

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  Main Voting Day November 24, 2003   

Premier Joe Handley
It can't get much easier for a politician. Joe Handley became premier of the Northwest Territories on Dec. 10 without ever having to collect a single vote.

Handley, the current finance minister, was acclaimed leader of the 15th legislative assembly, after two other hopefuls bowed out of the race. Handley was also one of five MLAs acclaimed in the territorial election, held on Nov. 24.

Under the territory's consensus-style government, the premier and cabinet are chosen from the ranks of MLAs.

Some say Handley's smooth walk into the premier's office is a sign that it's time to re-tool government, to make it more engaging to the electorate.

Handley says he views both acclamations as a sign he's doing a good job.

"To me it's 100 per cent support from my constituency and 100 per cent support from the other 18 MLAs," he says. "I take that as just an excellent sign of a possibility, a probability of a really good working relationship."

MLAs followed an unofficial formula, with two cabinet members chosen from the southern part of the territory, two from Yellowknife, and two from the north.

  • Yellowknife will be represented by Brendan Bell and Charles Dent.
  • the territory's southern half will have Michael MacLeod (Deh Cho) and Michael Miltenberger (Thebacha) sitting in cabinet.
  • the northern area will be represented by Henry Zoe (North Slave) and Floyd Roland (Inuvik-Boot Lake).

Zoe is the only member of cabinet who speaks an aboriginal language.

It will be up to Handley to assign portfolios to the six cabinet members.

Handley's drive to become premier became unstoppable after former justice minister Roger Allen and Roland dropped out of the race.

He replaces Stephen Kakfwi, who did not run for re-election.

Few surprises in election

The new territorial government in the N.W.T. looks a lot like the old one, with voters returning many incumbent MLAs to office. Including five candidates who were acclaimed at the start of the race, 12 experienced MLAs will be back for another term at the legislative assembly.

Voters stuck to what was familiar, handing incumbents strong wins. Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee scored the highest margin of victory, taking 80 per cent of the popular vote in her riding. Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger, who was expected to be in a tight race against a popular candidate, handily won his riding with 65 per cent of the ballots.

One cabinet minister, Vince Steen of the Nunakput riding, lost his seat. Two so-called "regular" MLAs, Leon Lafferty of North Slave and Steven Nitah of Tu Nedhe, were also voted out of office.

Otherwise voters have chosen a lot of familiar faces: of the seven seats from Yellowknife, two MLAs were acclaimed, three incumbents were returned to office, and the two newcomers in vacant seats are former city councillors.

There are no new female MLAs sitting in the legislature. The NDP, which ran two candidates in this campaign, again failed to make any inroads for party politics in the N.W.T.

N.W.T. faces serious challenges

The new territorial leader and cabinet have some serious economic issues to wrestle with.

While diamond mines and oil and gas exploration have created a boom economy, little of the revenue from development flows into the territory's coffers. The government is actually facing the prospect of hitting its debt limit in the next year or two.

One of the biggest challenges Handley will face is maintaining good relations with the territory's emerging aboriginal governments.

Territorial and aboriginal leaders agree they must all work together to negotiate control over lands, resources, and resource royalties from Ottawa.

Co-operation will also be key to settling the terms for construction of a Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline.

The $3-billion project is expected to change the face of the territory, spurring an exploration boom.









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