Bob McLeod, Glen Abernethy vie to be N.W.T. premier

The two candidates vying to be the next premier of the Northwest Territories spoke this afternoon at the legislative assembly.

MLAs will have 1 week to decide who they want to elect, hear from constituents

Bob McLeod and Glen Abernethy were the only two territorial MLAs who put their names forward as the N.W.T.'s next premier. MLAs will choose the premier in a vote December 16. (N.W.T. Legislative Assembly)

Bob McLeod and Glen Abernethy are vying to be the next premier of the Northwest Territories.

Under the N.W.T.'s consensus government model, premier and cabinet are chosen by the 19 elected MLAs through a secret ballot process. 

Bob McLeod, MLA for Yellowknife South, was voted premier in 2011. He was born in Fort Providence and moved to Yellowknife in 1979. 

McLeod worked in the civil service for 28 years before entering politics. He's served as deputy minister in three different departments and was the secretary to cabinet during the 15th Assembly. First elected in 2007, McLeod served as a cabinet minister in the 16th Assembly, before becoming premier in the 17th Assembly.

Abernethy, MLA for Great Slave, grew up in Yellowknife. Before entering politics, he worked for the territorial government for 15 years, mostly in human resources. He was first elected as MLA for Great Slave in 2007, after the retirement of longtime MLA Bill Braden. Abernethy was voted into cabinet in the 17th Assembly, and was named the Health and Social Services minister.

Candidates speak

Each candidate had 20 minutes to make their pitch for premiership to the MLAs. 

Abernethy spoke first, emphasizing a need for change.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a new result," he said, quoting Einstein.

"We can, and we must, do things differently," he said. 

He said in the current economic climate, the territory cannot afford to continue business as usual, and that a different approach is needed when it comes to local and sustainable economic development.

He said the premier needs to ensure a working relationship between cabinet and the regular members, and that consenus government is about relationships.

"I commit to being part of the team that is the 18th assembly," he said.

He also committed to meeting with the Akaitcho and Deh Cho leaderships immediately to move forward in negotiations.

In McLeod's speech, he described himself as a "consensus builder" and touted the 17th assembly's implementation of devolution.

He said he during the election campaign it was apparent that people want change, and he pledged better and more transparent decisions and to seek more input from regular members.

He also committed to naming a minister for transparency and democratic engagement.

McLeod said he would respond to the spectre of the diamond mine closures in the next 10-15 years by supporting more resource exploration and development and also pointed to public infrastructure projects as a way to put people to work. In this, as with many of his promises, he mentioned funding that is expected to come from the new Liberal federal government.

He pledged "sound fiscal management."

"If we don't have the money, we won't spend it," he said.

He also promised to lobby the federal government to make annual increases to the Northern residents tax deduction.

Unlike previous years, this time the vote for premier will not happen on the same day. Instead, MLAs will have a week to decide who they want to elect and to hear from constituents about who they think their member should vote for.

"It gives people an opportunity to discuss who the actual candidates are as opposed to the speculative candidates," says Tim Mercer, the clerk of the legislative assembly. 

Mercer says there have been discussions in the media and on social media about having a more open process.

"Most importantly, I think the members are looking forward to the opportunity to even have constituency meetings and talk to the people who elected them about what they're looking for in a premier, to help inform the way they vote on the 16th of December," he said.

MLAs will still vote for premier by secret ballot — a process, Mercer said, members didn't want changed. However, he said there's nothing preventing MLAs from revealing who they vote for. 

CBC North's Richard Gleeson and Guy Quenneville were live at the legislature. Follow their tweets below.


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