New wave of female candidates makes splash ahead of 2019 campaign
20 candidates have declared their intention to run in the territorial election, including 12 incumbents
After the 2015 Northwest Territories election, it was difficult to argue that the territory didn't have a gender balance issue in government.
Just two female MLAs — Julie Green and Caroline Cochrane — were elected to the legislature, leaving the N.W.T. with the lowest percentage of female MLAs in Canada. In total, only nine female candidates ran, out of a field of 60 total.
A government committee was struck to examine the issue, and MLAs supported a move toward a quota system if at least four women were not elected to the legislature after the 2023 election.
A campaign school, introduced by the Native Women's Association and Status of Women Council of the N.W.T., has also proven effective. Both Green and Cochrane are former students.
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If the first wave of candidates announced for the 2019 election, which takes place October 1, is any indication, these early efforts appear to be paying off.
With the official opening of the nomination period still over six weeks away, six women, including incumbents Green and Cochrane, have already announced their intentions to run in the upcoming election, more than half of the total number in 2015.
Newcomers include Lesa Semmler, a former member of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl's national family advisory circle. Semler will contest the Inuvik Twin Lakes seat left by Minister Robert C. McLeod, who has announced he won't seek re-election.
Diane Thom, the chief negotiator for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, also confirmed to CBC Wednesday that she intends to run in the Inuvik Boot Lake riding, currently held by Minister Alfred Moses. Moses has not yet announced whether he plans to seek re-election.
In Yellowknife, lawyer Caroline Wawzonek will run in Premier Bob McLeod's Yellowknife South riding — the premier has not yet announced his intentions to run again — and engineer Katrina Nokleby will take on Health Minister Glen Abernethy in Great Slave.
Several other female candidates are expected to announce their candidacies in the coming weeks, a development that may foreshadow a more gender-balanced legislature and follows the momentum from 2018's municipal elections, when Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith all elected female mayors.
Races developing in Yellowknife
Races in the 2019 election are developing in several Yellowknife constituencies. The capital city is the only community so far in which multiple candidates have announced their intentions to run in the same race.
In Frame Lake, former industry minister Dave Ramsay will attempt to return to the legislature after losing his Kam Lake seat to Kieron Testart in 2015.
He'll take on incumbent Kevin O'Reilly, an environmental advocate and outspoken regular MLA who has criticized the government's approach to industry, including a mine benefits agreement with Fortune Minerals, where Ramsay is a board member.
Testart will also battle a former MLA in Kam Lake. Robert Hawkins, a former three-term MLA who lost his Yellowknife Centre seat to Green in 2015, has announced his candidacy in the constituency.
In Yellowknife North, incumbent Cory Vanthuyne will oppose Rylund Johnson, a lawyer and the founder of Makerspace YK.
On Wednesday, Steve Norn, a former insurance broker and government employee who competed on Canada's Smartest Person in 2016, confirmed to CBC that he intends to run in the riding of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. The riding is currently held by Tom Beaulieu, who previously announced that he will not seek re-election.
Several incumbents outside of Yellowknife have also announced their plans to seek re-election: Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson, Hay River South MLA and cabinet minister Wally Schumann, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson and Sahtu MLA Danny McNeely.
On Wednesday, Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak and Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. both confirmed to CBC they plan to seek re-election.
Candidates still have weeks before they make their nominations official; the nomination period is set to begin on Monday, Sept. 2 and close on Friday, Sept. 6, according to Elections NWT.