2 women elected to N.W.T. legislature

Just two women have been elected to the N.W.T. legislature. Some attribute this to the number of male incumbents who have held onto their seats term after term.

Rabesca Zoe says being a woman played a role in her defeat

Bertha Rabesca Zoe lost the Monfwi riding to incumbent Jackson Lafferty. She says some people still think women shouldn't run in elections.

Just two women will head to the N.W.T. legislature's 17th assembly, down from the 2007 election, when three women won seats.

Both are incumbents – Wendy Bisaro in Frame Lake and Jane Groenewegen in Hay River South. Bisaro says she will have to work harder to make sure issues such as poverty reduction are high on the agenda. But she admits it's difficult for women to get elected.

"Part of it is exposure, part of it is we need to encourage women, to accept that women can be politicians, can do the job and support them in their aspirations," Bisaro said. "And if women are not supported, it's extremely difficult for them to get where they need to go."

Jane Groenewegen (left) celebrates her Hay Rover South riding win with her supporters. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

A prominent female candidate, Bertha Rabesca Zoe, lost to incumbent Jackson Lafferty in Monfwi. Lafferty won 55 per cent of the vote.

Rabesca Zoe thinks being a woman played a part in her defeat.

"There’s still some attitude out there that… a woman shouldn’t be running in an election," she said.

Jane Weyallon is a member of the community government in Behchoko. She says the results show there’s still a long road ahead to make sure women are recognized. She says she sympathizes with young girls and hopes they aren’t discouraged by the lack of female representation in politics.

Marilyn Napier is the executive director of the Native Women’s Association in Yellowknife. She says women need to start planning for the next election now and build their profile in the community long before the campaign starts.

"Don't do it at the last minute, start now," Napier said. "If they want to get into politics four years from now, start now, get the training, get the public speaking, get yourself ready, get your money now."

Napier attributes the small number of female MLAs, in part, to the number of male incumbents who hold onto their seats term after term. She says the more women are elected, the more role models there will be to inspire young women.

The three women elected to the assembly in 2007 were Sandy Lee in Range Lake, Hay River South's Jane Groenewegen and Wendy Bisaro, who won for the first time in Frame Lake.

Sandy Lee resigned from her position as MLA and health minister in April 2011 to run for the Conservatives in the 2011 federal election. She lost that election to incumbent New Democratic Party member of Parliament Dennis Bevington.

Nine female candidates ran this election. The seven who lost are:

  • Beatrice Emily Lepine, Hay River North
  • Mary Clark, Mackenzie Delta
  • Glenna Hansen, Mackenzie Delta
  • Bertha Norwegian, Nahendeh
  • Bertha Rabesca Zoe, Monfwi
  • Jeannie Marie-Jewell, Thebacha
  • Arlene Hache, Yellowknife Centre

Three is the record number of female MLAs at one point in the assembly. There were three in both 2007 and 2003.

In 2007, Bisaro was the 10th woman elected to the assembly.

In 1970, Lena Pedersen became the first woman ever elected to the assembly, which was then called the territorial council.

Nellie Cournoyea became the first female premier of the Northwest Territories in 1991. She was also the longest-serving female MLA, from 1979-1995. Cournoyea was also the first aboriginal woman in Canada to become a premier.