North·Analysis

MLA attendance: Who gets the highest grade in the 18th Assembly?

The 18th Legislative Assembly held over 900 standing committee meetings in four years. David Wasylciw looks into which MLAs made it to the most, which made it to the least, and why.

Frame Lake's Kevin O'Reilly stands out attending 240 optional meetings, Nunakput's Herb Nakimayak has lowest

A meeting of the standing committee on government operations in 2018. In total, over 900 standing committee meetings were held by the 18th Legislative Assembly. (Randi Beers/CBC)

Editor's note: As part of our 2019 N.W.T. election coverage, David Wasylciw, data geek and founder of OpenNWT, is taking a look at the last Legislative Assembly – breaking down what the numbers tell us about how our government and our politicians work. Most importantly, he explains what this means for you, the voter, ahead of the election on Oct. 1. 

In his fourth and final instalment, David digs into attendance records for the MLAs in the 18th Legislative Assembly.


In the final part of this series, we'll take a look at standing committee attendance. Standing committees are committees of MLAs that have various areas of responsibility over reviewing government policy, studying bills (including holding public hearings), and developing rules for MLAs. 

Generally, standing committees are made up of only regular members, but there are a few special cases where some cabinet members and the Speaker take part. Some committees meet far more often than the others and each has a different workload.

In the 18th Assembly the standing committees were:

  • Board of management, consisting of Frederick Blake Jr., Robert C., McLeod, Jackson Lafferty, Wally Schumann, and Cory Vanthuyne;
  • Priorities and planning, consisting of all regular members;
  • Economic development and environment, consisting of Danny McNeely, Herb Nakimayak, Kevin O'Reilly, R.J. Simpson, Kieron Testart, and Cory Vanthuyne;
  • Social development, consisting of Tom Beaulieu, Frederick Blake Jr., Julie Green, Michael Nadli, and Shane Thompson;
  • Government operations, consisting of Daniel McNeely, Michael Nadli, Herb Nakimayak, R.J. Simpson, and Kieron Testart; and
  • Rules and procedures, consisting of Tom Beaulieu, Julie Green, Kevin O'Reilly, Louis Sebert, and Shane Thompson.

Throughout the Assembly, attendance records are kept for committee meetings. When I started my research, based on the records I could find, I understood there were 870 different committee meetings, but after a more detailed review we found even more: 903 meetings over the four years, seemingly a record high.

To show this information, we'll look at three different sets of numbers: attendance at meetings an MLA was required to attend, attendance at optional meetings, and overall attendance. 

Absences from meetings can be for all sorts of reasons, including other official duties (for example, meeting with constituents, attending a meeting with another government, etc.), illness or attending a funeral, personal reasons, and other factors outside someone's control (cancelled flights, weather, etc.).

Required meetings

At the beginning of the assembly, MLAs decide who will sit on which committee, and who will serve as an alternate. To determine which meetings an MLA had to attend was based on if they were a regular member of the committee, or if they were attending a meeting as the alternate and needed to attend to achieve quorum.

Overall, most MLAs attended most of the meetings they were required to, with over 90 per cent attendance being the norm. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly and Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson take the top prize for attendance, with both at 99 per cent of required meetings. 

An honourable mention in this category goes to Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne, who boasts a 98 per cent required attendance record. 

At the bottom of the attendance record is Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak who only attended 65 per cent of his required meetings, missing 224 out of 637 required meetings. 

The number is a historical outlier — in 2015, the MLA who missed the most required meetings was Sahtu's Norman Yakeleya, who missed 81 out of 552.

For additional context, many of Nakimayak's absences were for either other duties or personal reasons, often due to serving as vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC).

Optional meetings

But required meetings is only part of the equation. Regular MLAs have the right to attend any committee meeting whether they are on the committee or not, and some choose to attend them quite often. 

For our optional meetings calculation, we added up all additional meetings attended, except when the MLA was there in their official capacity as an alternate.

In absolute numbers, the average MLAs attended about 29 extra meetings. However, that number doesn't include a major outlier: Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly, who attended a staggering 240 additional meetings, or 60 per cent of meetings he wasn't required to be at. 

For comparison, in the 17th Assembly the highest number of optional meetings were attended by Weldeh MLA Bob Bromley and totalled only 130.

The next highest optional attendance record in the 18th Assembly was Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson who went to 86 additional meetings, or 23 per cent of those he wasn't required to attend. 

On the other side of the scale, Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak attended only two optional meetings, followed by Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, who attended six.

Overall attendance

At this point, it's quite clear who sits on the top and bottom of attendance records for the 18th Assembly. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly laps the pack, having attended 82 per cent — 739 — of all possible meetings. Nunakput MLA Herbert Nakimayak has the lowest numbers, attending 46 per cent — 414 — of all meetings. 

Kevin O'Reilly, left, and Herb Nakimayak attended and missed meetings, respectively, at historic rates over the past four years. (CBC)

Aside from those two, the next highest attendance record is a photo finish between Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart and Hay River North

 MLA R.J. Simpson, both of whom attended 71 per cent (645 and 638 respectively) of all meetings. 

On the lower end, Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. attended only 53 per cent — 475 — of all meetings, while Yellowknife North's  Cory Vanthuyne and Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh's Tom Beaulieu attended 54 per cent.

The overall attendance number is an interesting statistic, but like many of the other measures we have explored, committee meeting attendance doesn't determine the effectiveness of an MLA. 

Much of the work representing constituents happens in session or in other meetings, and, often, MLAs end up double or triple booked and have to decide what to do. Those choices they make are an interesting insight into their priorities or duties throughout the term.

About the Author

David Wasylciw

Founder, OpenNWT

David Wasylciw is a small business owner and an advocate for more open and accountable government. In 2014, he founded OpenNWT, a non-profit that develops tools to make government information accessible to the public.

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