'Time to go home': Jackson Lafferty resigns from N.W.T. legislature

The Northwest Territories MLA, who also sat as house speaker, has confirmed his resignation this morning in the legislature. He gave a resignation speech in the assembly this morning.

Lafferty says he will run for Tłıchǫ grand chief

Jackson Lafferty officially announced his resignation on Friday, after 16 years in the Legislative Assembly. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty officially announced Friday that he is resigning, following years of personal sacrifice and the "true honour" of serving the Tłıchǫ region for 16 years. 

When he first ran, it was elders that encouraged him to do so, and it's elders now that counselled his decision to resign.

"This time they're asking me to come home, back to my region, back to the Tłıchǫ," he said, noting that he will be running for Tłıchǫ grand chief in this fall's election.

"My family says the elders are right, it is time for a new direction. It is time to go home."

Lafferty first broke the news in an interview with CKLB Tłıchǫ Yatıì radio host Mary Rose Blackduck on Thursday and made his resignation formal in the assembly Friday. 

'Everything I do is based on the direction of my people'

Lafferty was first elected in 2005 in a byelection for North Slave, now known as Monfwi.

In 2011, Lafferty was elected to cabinet, sitting as deputy premier and Minister of Education, Culture and Employment over his term. 

He ran unopposed in 2015 and was elected as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. After running unopposed again in 2019, Lafferty was unsuccessful in a bid for premier, ultimately losing in the final vote of a runoff to Caroline Cochrane.

He has visited each of the communities of the N.W.T. and travelled around Canada and promoted the territory abroad. 

Lafferty said he's been re-thinking his role as MLA for the last few years. The elders asked him to come home before the 2019 election, but he told them he wanted to serve one more term. 

So, bringing his resignation up in the house today, he says, is a way of keeping his word to the Tłıchǫ people who elected him. 

"Everything I do is based on the direction of my people," Lafferty said. 

It's also for his family. In his speech, Lafferty said the "demanding life" he's had as an MLA means missing out on a lot of laughter and tears with his family over the years. 

Lafferty said he wouldn't be able to make this decision without their constant support. 

"If I had an amount of success as a politician, it's them I have to thank," he said. 

Still, he said, the day's been emotional. 

"There were some tears," Lafferty said, talking about the moments after his resignation speech when members sent him off in the hallway outside the chamber. 

"A lot of members … just thanking me for some guidance I've given them, and wishing me the best of luck."

Cabinet critic, language advocate

As a regular member, Lafferty was a cabinet critic. 

Last year, he was kicked out of the legislature for a day because he wouldn't apologize to premier Caroline Cochrane about his assertion that she overstepped her authority in firing the former president of Aurora College.

Lafferty was one of the few N.W.T. MLAs to regularly speak an Indigenous language in the house. During the Aurora College president debacle, he asked for the house to be shut down because there was no Tłı̨chǫ language interpreter in the legislature that day.

A standing committee later recommended that the Speaker "give strong consideration" to closing or suspending the house if a similar situation arises in future.

Lafferty hopes his passion for the Tłıchǫ and other Indigenous languages will be remembered, and carried on, by the members that follow. 

"I'm the only one that speaks the language in the house," he said. "I fear that's going to be lost, that would be a key example that could be a challenge moving forward." 

He hopes his work as Speaker, by promoting more official languages in prayer, will "plant the seed" for that work to continue. 

Byelection coming up

Lafferty said sitting in the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly is a "true honour, a high calling. I will be grateful for the rest of my life for being given this opportunity."

Lafferty's resignation is considered effective immediately.

It will be up to the N.W.T.'s Chief Election Officer to determine the date for a byelection in the Monfwi riding, which includes the Tłıchǫ communities of Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, Wekweètì and Gamètì.

Lafferty didn't give any suggestions for who should replace him, opting instead to list some qualities for a good MLA : humility, patience and a drive to make a difference. 

Most importantly, the new member has to listen to the Tłıchǫ people. 

"I love the Tłıchǫ people and the communities. For their sake, I would do it all over again," he said.