N.W.T. premier states 'complete confidence' in minister after MLAs drop confidence motion
MLAs have given no public justification for motion against Katrina Nokleby
The reasons behind a confidence motion against N.W.T. Industry and Infrastructure Minister Katrina Nokleby may never be known, as MLAs withdrew the motion without a vote Friday morning.
MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh Steve Norn announced the motion would not proceed to a vote as expected in a short statement during the morning's sitting.
Norn gave notice of the motion Wednesday in his role as chair of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight. In a scrum with reporters after the withdrawal, he suggested he personally did not support the motion.
"I was asked by my colleagues to put forward this motion," he said. "At the time, when we first started discussing this, I felt there was a threshold there to put forward this motion."
Norn declined to disclose his fellow MLAs' justification for pursuing Nokleby's dismissal. He said "through discussions," they later decided to rescind the motion.
"The elders taught me that we should … not fight amongst each other but work with each other, and that's what we did here at the end of the day," he said.
In her own scrum with reporters, Premier Caroline Cochrane also tried to suggest the motion's abrupt withdrawal was a sign of unity.
"It's incredible that the MLAs, regular members and cabinet, could finally come together," she said. "It's not a good thing to start with, but you know what, I really believe in my heart it has made all of us stronger."
Premier, Nockleby release Friday evening statement
In a joint statement released Friday evening, Premier Cochrane and Minister Nokleby said they are working in partnership with MLAs.
"The 19th Legislative Assembly is still a new government, with many new members. It takes time for people to learn to work together effectively in new roles," states the release on behalf of Cochrane and Nokleby.
The release says the two met with members of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight on Friday morning to discuss their concerns and how they could be resolved, but did not provide details of the meeting.
"What we can say is that all members agree we need to put the people of the Northwest Territories first and make good on the promise to work together to deliver results and do government differently."
Cochrane added that she has "complete confidence" in Nokleby, saying they are both committed to working together with all members on behalf of Northwest Territories residents.
Nokleby said in the release that since being elected, it has been her goal to ensure efforts to create change were directed at matters that "matter most" and have the biggest impact on the territory's residents.
"That was my goal then, and remains true today. In my role as minister, I can, and have been a loud and strong voice for our territory. It's a voice and strength I have carried with me all my life, and one that I look forward to continuing to use in my role as Minister for the benefit of our territory and residents."
The 19th Legislative Assembly is still a new government, with many new members. It takes time for people to learn to work together effectively in new roles.- Premier Caroline Cochrane and Industry Minister Katrina Nokleby
Most MLAs have still not offered any public justification for the motion to remove Nokleby just over seven months into her tenure.
The committee that approved the motion is composed of the assembly's 11 regular MLAs, and it needed the support of at least two MLAs — a mover and a seconder — to proceed to the floor.
But that vote was held in camera, and conventions of consensus government suggest MLAs keep those discussions confidential.
Now that it has been withdrawn, it may never be clear who pushed for the confidence vote in committee and who supported it.
Motion met with public backlash
Nokleby, an engineer, holds the portfolios of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and Infrastructure. In the former role, she's overseen the territory's response to economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far amounted to millions of dollars in loans that some business owners have said fail to meet their needs.
After advance notice of the motion was given on Wednesday, MLAs faced a swift public backlash. Local media highlighted the fact that the motion's seconder, Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, owes Nokleby's department nearly $2 million, and a petition launched against the motion has attracted nearly 1,500 signatures.
Thursday, the Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines sent an open letter to all MLAs urging them to keep Nokleby on, saying the legislative assembly "is all the better for having Minister Nokleby occupying her current portfolios."
Glen Abernethy, a former N.W.T. health minister who himself faced a confidence motion in 2018, added to the criticism in an interview on CBC's The Trailbreaker Friday morning.
"Honestly, I was quite surprised that a motion of this sort was coming forward so early in the life of this government," he said. "It does seem a little weird to me."
Some MLAs make opposition public
Following the withdrawal of the motion, Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland posted a video of her reading a statement she planned to read if the motion went to a vote.
"I hope that MLAs on both sides of the floor take this experience as a humbling exercise and not a hardening one," she said.
Cleveland cited the lack of experience in cabinet, which includes four first-term MLAs, as the reason for her opposition to the motion.
"We are a cohort of green politicians," she said. "I don't think Minister Nokleby … has had a reasonable opportunity to perfect their job. Therefore, I find the motion … premature."
Prior to its withdrawal, only one regular MLA had spoken publicly about the motion. Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson told a meeting of constituents that he would not be voting to remove Nokleby.
"I am not in support of this motion, for a lot of reasons, I guess," he is quoted as saying in local media reports. "Removing a minister in the middle of a pandemic is not the best time to do it."
Johnson did say concerns about Nokleby are "not completely unfounded."
"Katrina is a bit of a bull in a china shop at times and sometimes she's not ministerial," he was quoted as saying.
Members' statements at the opening of the sitting suggested some other grievances against Nokleby's department.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson criticized a lack of communication about airport renewal projects in his region, and Cleveland criticized cabinet's response to economic disruption caused by COVID-19.
Simpson reread an old statement about the government's lack of consultation with industry on recent investment in the fisheries industry, and later questioned Nokleby on her appointments to a fisheries marketing board.
Thebacha MLA Freida Martselos also asked several pointed questions to Nokleby on how her department is pursuing the development of the Taltson Dam, a multi-billion dollar hydroelectric project in her region.
But none spoke directly to the motion.
Withdrawal 'troubling', says former minister
In his meeting with constituents, Johnson suggested the withdrawal could be coming, and the motion could "completely disappear on the floor of the house."
On The Trailbreaker Friday morning, Abernethy said a withdrawal would be "troubling."
"If it doesn't proceed, there's no opportunity for one to defend him or herself, and there's no opportunity for people to understand the issue at hand," he said.
But equally, he said if the motion had been tabled and failed, it could have had wide-reaching impacts in the chamber.
"If it is unsuccessful it can lead to some animosity," he said. "At the end of the day, we're talking about human beings."
- An earlier version of this article suggested the motion needed the support of six regular MLAs to proceed to a vote. In fact, only two MLAs — a mover and a seconder — are needed to see the motion carried to the floor.May 29, 2020 12:30 PM CT
With files from Loren McGinnis and Danielle D'Entremont