North

OPINION | The public has a right to know why the premier sacked a minister

Instead of the promised change and transparency, the 19th Assembly has become stalled by infighting, poor communications, and backsliding into the choking cloud of secrecy that persists around consensus politics in the N.W.T., writes Kieron Testart.

19th Assembly stalled by infighting, poor communications, and shrouded in secrecy, says Kieron Testart

Premier Caroline Cochrane, left, stripped MLA Katrina Nokleby of her cabinet portfolios on Wednesday. Former MLA Kieron Testart says the public has a right to know why. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Katrina Nokleby is out of a job and the silence is deafening. 

The public has a right to know why Premier Caroline Cochrane sacked her infrastructure and industry minister on Wednesday, and deserves an explanation.

Remember back in 2019, before the pandemic changed everything and we looked toward the fresh-faced new government of the Northwest Territories with optimism and excitement? 

Instead of the promised change and transparency, the 19th Assembly has become stalled by infighting, poor communications, and backsliding into the choking cloud of secrecy that persists around consensus politics in the N.W.T. 

The troubled saga of now ex-industry minister Nokleby is perhaps the most enduring case of this political dysfunction. Nokleby has been a target for many of her colleagues since taking her seat at the cabinet table, despite glowing support from the public on the performance of her job as minister. 

In a surprise move, Premier Cochrane has since stripped Nokleby of her portfolios and, in doing so, is likely inviting MLAs to remove Nokleby from cabinet, something the premier cannot do herself due to procedural rules of the Legislative Assembly. 

The 19th Legislative Assembly of the N.W.T. A new minister will take Nokleby's place and collectively the Legislative Assembly will hope that no one asks any more questions about the whole affair, writes Kieron Testart. (CBC)

In making this dramatic and unprecedented decision, Cochrane has offered only vague suggestions for why Nokleby needed to go and has refused to answer any questions from journalists or the public.

In May, when regular MLAs tried to oust Nokleby with a clumsy non-confidence motion, many northerners felt blindsided and outraged. To this day the only justification that has ever been made public is that there were concerns over her "performance as a minister." 

The only difference between the botched non-confidence motion in May and now is who is pulling the trigger.- Kieron Testart, former MLA

This was far from enough evidence to satisfy the public's right to know back then, and looking to Cochrane's justification now, all we are told once again is there were "concerns related to the minister's performance." 

The only difference between the botched non-confidence motion in May and now is who is pulling the trigger. 

This becomes especially confusing as only three months ago, Cochrane said she had "complete confidence" in Nokleby and pleaded for patience, stating "it takes time for people to learn to work together effectively in new roles." 

Apparently a lot can change in the span of a few short months.

This is not the first time a premier has used their powers to effectively dismiss someone from cabinet. In 2004, Henry Zoe was stripped of his portfolios after facing a scandal for making derogatory comments toward Newfoundlanders, and in 2008 Norman Yakeleya was removed after he was charged with sexual assault (he was later found not guilty). 

In both these cases, it was clear to northerners why these ministers needed to go and it can be argued that it was public concerns that led to action from the premier, rather than the other way around.

I imagine the wolves are already circling Nokleby's soon-to-be-vacant cabinet seat.- Kieron Testart

Citizens have a right to know about the decisions made by their governments and elected leaders. 

While it is true that Cochrane has every right to use her powers in this way, failing to provide a satisfactory explanation only creates unnecessary speculation that allows people to create their own narratives — which quickly turn into something of a partisan nature, are you Team Nokleby or Team Cochrane? 

At an unprecedented time in our history, the North cannot afford to be divided, and once again the inability of politicians to explain themselves to the public is sowing the seeds of distrust in our leaders and governing institutions.

I imagine the wolves are already circling Nokleby's soon-to-be-vacant cabinet seat. 

Whether she faces resignation or removal is unimportant. 

The result will be the same: a new minister will take her place, and collectively the Legislative Assembly will hope that no one asks any more questions about the whole affair, and that northerners will forget by 2023, when they need your vote. 


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kieron Testart lives in Yellowknife and is a former member of the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly. He is a frequent contributor to political discussions in the North and holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Lethbridge and a Certificate in Parliamentary Governance from McGill University.

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