Caroline Cochrane elected premier of the N.W.T.

Caroline Cochrane, who represents Yellowknife's Range Lake riding, was selected after three rounds of voting.

19 MLAs voted in 3 rounds of secret balloting for 1 of 4 candidates

Caroline Cochrane, MLA for Range Lake in Yellowknife, has been elected premier of the Northwest Territories. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Caroline Cochrane, MLA for Yellowknife's Range Lake district, was chosen Thursday to be the new premier of the Northwest Territories.

Cochrane was elected by secret ballot among the 19 MLAs of the Legislative Assembly. The vote went to three ballots, as no candidate secured a majority of votes in the first two rounds.

Cochrane is the only current female premier in Canada and the second female premier of the Northwest Territories, after Nellie Cournoyea, who was premier from 1991 to 1995.

"I've heard it, and we need to work better together," she said in a speech after the result was announced. "My commitment is to always have an open door.… Together, we make a stronger government."

Like all MLAs in the consensus system, Cochrane has no party affiliation. She said she would make the next government "the most progressive government in the Northwest Territories."

Cochrane was the only sitting cabinet minister to survive the Oct. 1 territorial election. She held the portfolio of education, culture and employment for two years. Before that, she served as minister of housing and of municipal and community affairs. Throughout, she was also minister of the status of women.

Her election marks the third consecutive time the premier has come from a Yellowknife riding. The result follows a territorial campaign defined in part by communities' grievances about the perceived flow of resources and investment to Yellowknife.

Cochrane was the subject of intense criticism following the publication of the Aurora College Foundational Review, produced during her term as minister, which advised relocating the college's main campus from Fort Smith, N.W.T., to Yellowknife.

In response to questions from MLAs, Cochrane spoke emotionally about preserving Indigenous languages and fixing a beleaguered child and family services system.

In what many are calling a change election, N.W.T. voters elected 19 members — 11 of them brand new — to the territorial legislature on Oct. 1. The N.W.T. uses a consensus style of government (there are no political parties in the N.W.T.), meaning the MLAs pick the premier and cabinet.  (CBC)

She stated repeatedly that control needed to be given to Indigenous governments, and that the territory should engage in better consultation with residents.

She has said she will organize a summit on the economy, rewrite "action plans" on climate change produced last year, and mandate public surveys to determine priorities for every department.

In her speech on Oct. 18, Cochrane committed to issuing public "mandate letters" to her ministers and amalgamating the departments of Lands and Municipal and Community Affairs.

She also said she'd rename the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment the Department of Economic Diversification and Development, and would require "equity-based and gender-based analysis in any new program or service delivery."

At the opening of the session, Frederick Blake Jr., acclaimed MLA for Mackenzie Delta, was acclaimed as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Following Blake's acclamation, candidates for premier faced questions from MLAs for the second time.

Frederick Blake Jr., acclaimed MLA for Mackenzie Delta, was acclaimed as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

On Oct. 18, the candidates made their pitch to MLAs.

On Thursday, the candidates faced additional questions after a weeklong break meant to allow MLAs to consult with constituents. Questions focused largely on working with Indigenous governments, some of which gave new MLAs a grilling before last week's speeches.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Cochrane on her selection, saying that he looks forward to working with her "to address the needs and priorities of northerners.

"Together, we will make life more affordable for families, and make it easier for them to find a place to call home. We will also bring clean power to more communities, and connect them to the reliable, high-speed internet they need to build a better future," the statement said.

Unsuccessful candidates vie for cabinet

Frieda Martselos, MLA for Thebacha, and R.J. Simpson, MLA for Hay River North, were struck from the ballot after the first and second round of voting, respectively.

Both nominated themselves for seats in cabinet. Six cabinet ministers are also chosen by a vote of all 19 members under the consensus system.

"You've got to keep the conversation going," said Simpson, after losing the vote. "I'm ready to try to make a little more change."

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty was defeated on the final ballot.

"Disappointed, maybe, is the word," he said. "It's part of democracy. You can't win them all."

Lafferty did not nominate himself for a seat in cabinet. He will sit as a regular member for the first time since 2007.

His pitch included a pledge to work more closely with Indigenous leadership across the territory.

"The premier heard it clearly," he said. "She has to be accountable to her members, and she has to be accountable to m… Indigenous leadership as well."

Most MLAs mum on choice for premier

As they headed in to vote, most MLAs were tight-lipped about who they want to lead the new government.

In what many are calling a change election, N.W.T. voters elected 19 members — 11 of them brand new — to the territorial legislature on Oct. 1.

"We did discuss as a group whether this should be an open vote or secret ballot," said Caroline Wawzonek, MLA for Yellowknife South, who was also seeking a cabinet position. The consensus was to keep it confidential. 

"There can be a lot of influences on the 19 members, and keeping it secret can help people vote according to their conscience," she said.


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