North·Analysis

Eight ridings to watch in the Northwest Territories' election

Voters in the N.W.T. head to the polls on Oct. 1 — here are some races we'll be watching closely.

Voters head to the polls Oct. 1 — here are some races we'll be watching closely

The N.W.T.'s 2019 election is underway, here are some of the top races to watch. (CBC)

Voters are heading to the polls on Oct. 1 to elect a new government in the Northwest Territories, and, after a month of campaigning, 55 candidates are hoping to see their names marked as "elected" by the end of the evening.

Three candidates were acclaimed: R.J. Simpson in Hay River North, Frederick Blake, Jr. in the Mackenzie Delta, and Jackson Lafferty, unchallenged for the second consecutive time in Monfwi.

Here are eight ridings we think look particularly interesting.

It's a family affair in Hay River South, where Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann faces a challenge from Rocky Simpson, father of Hay River's other incumbent, Rocky "R.J." Simpson.

The race will be a referendum on Schumann's time as infrastructure minister, which hasn't always been smooth.

The incumbent, known for his prickly personal brand, has come under fire for failed barge shipments to northern communities and for not doing enough to bolster Hay River's fishing industry.

Simpson the elder told the Hay River Hub he'll be bringing up a bunch of issues, from housing and affordable power, to support for seniors and access to care.


Justice Minister Louis Sebert survived a confidence vote in 2018 — but will he survive an election?

Sebert faced the vote during the 18th Assembly's midterm review, when MLAs slammed him for his leadership.

"I would be the first to admit that I could do a better job as Minister," he said at the time.

But in Fort Smith, Thebacha's centre, what he didn't say could decide his political future.

The territorial government's review of Aurora College, released while Sebert was in cabinet, recommended re-imagining the college as a Yellowknife-based university — an example, his opponents say, of Sebert not sticking up for the community when it matters most.

Now, Sebert is facing strong opposition from three candidates. Denise Yuhas, best known for her time as an effective constituency assistant for Sebert's predecessor, is running on a platform of keeping services in the community.

That's echoed by their opponents. Among them is Frieda Martselos, the sometimes controversial chief of Salt River First Nation, who told Cabin Radio that government should be "run like a business."

Last but not least is former newspaperman Don Jaque, repeating a failed bid for MLA in 2015. His plan calls for an intergovernmental council, bringing together Indigenous leaders and the municipal government in an advisory role.


There are two vocal social issues advocates running for the Yellowknife Centre seat: incumbent Julie Green and Arlene Hache.

Green is known for interrogating the education minister over the fate of Aurora College's social work program, and for pushing the government to cover the cost of Mifegymiso, commonly known as the "abortion pill."

Hache has built a career around developing programs to address homelessness, addictions and unemployment. She was inducted into the Order of Canada for that work. 

Also in the downtown race is Niels Konge, a contractor and sitting Yellowknife city councillor.

Konge made headlines in 2017 for a public spat with then-Yellowknife mayor Mark Heyck in which each accused the other of bullying. The dispute ended with city council censuring Konge.

On city council however, Konge has championed initiatives for young families, such as the construction of a new, state-of-the-art public swimming pool.

Thom Jarvis is lesser known than his competitors, but some may remember him from his bid for Yellowknife city council in 2015. He lost that race. Jarvis works for the NWT Metis-Dene Development Fund.


In Frame Lake, it's a battle of ideologies as incumbent Kevin O'Reilly goes head-to-head with former infrastructure minister Dave Ramsay.

Ramsay hand-picked a faceoff with O'Reilly, who has a long history of environmental activism, for his return to politics — he was ousted in a surprise upset in Kam Lake in 2015.

Ramsay is known for his connections with the minerals industry and is running on a platform heavy on resource development.

O'Reilly, in contrast, is pushing for economic diversification, and hoping investment in new housing and higher education can jump start a "knowledge economy" in the North.

Ramsay says he's hoping the contrast between the two candidates' platforms will offer voters "a clear choice," as his campaign signs read, and the lawns of the constituency are divided between the two candidates.

If Ramsay wins, he'll likely be seeking his old job back — a seat in cabinet with the portfolio of infrastructure or industry, tourism, and investment.


In the territory's largest and most northern riding, it's a rerun of 2015 — plus four new challengers to make things interesting.

Former speaker Jackie Jacobson is looking to reclaim his seat, which he lost to incumbent Herb Nakimayak by just four votes last time around.

Neither is guaranteed a victory — they're up against four other challengers.

Annie Steen oversaw an economic boom as the economic development officer for the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk after the all-season road was opened in 2017.

Holly Campbell, also on the ballot, spent some time on the hamlet's town council. She's also no stranger to managing investment — she's the economic development officer in nearby Inuvik for the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment.

They're joined on the ballot by Sheila Nasogaluak, formerly of Sachs Harbour and Tuktoyaktuk, and dog musher and mine safety trainer Alisa Blake, who's staked her platform on one of the riding's top issues: housing.

Nunakput is home to the territory's four northernmost communities — Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, and Sachs Harbour.

All suffer from a generally poor and crowded state of housing, but this race could just as much be about a growing divide between connected Tuktoyaktuk and the other, fly-in communities. 

Only Nakimayak and Nasogaluak can claim they've lived in the more remote communities.

Look also for the issue of 2018's cancelled barge season to rear its head — Paulatuk, one of the riding's four communities, was one of several to have its deliveries cut off.

Nakimayak voted to keep infrastructure minister Wally Schumann in his post after the failed barge deliveries, saying he did so on the advice of local leadership.


Kam Lake is tied with Nunakput for the territory's most crowded race. Five challengers are trying to topple incumbent MLA Kieron Testart, who rode to victory over cabinet minister Dave Ramsay in 2015.

The result was a surprise, as was the turnout — the lowest in the territory. Fewer than 500 people voted, or about 25 per cent.

This time, there were, at least, more candidates knocking on doors. Testart shares the ballot with local businessman Abdullah Al-Mahamud, photographer Caitlin Cleveland, financial policy analyst Cherish Windsor and city councillor Rommel Silverio.

Former MLA Robert Hawkins is also hoping to regain a seat in the legislature — he changed his riding from Yellowknife Centre to Kam Lake to join the crowded field.


Incumbent Danny McNeely will face off against a former grand chief this election.

Wilfred McNeely Jr. has served as both grand chief of the Sahtu Dene Council and as chief and mayor of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. McNeely Jr. recently ran for re-election in Fort Good Hope, but lost to Daniel Masuzumi.

Also running in the Sahtu is Paulie Chinna, who works for the territorial Department of Lands in Norman Wells. Chinna focused on education during the campaign. She also wants to see progress on the Mackenzie Valley Highway, which she says would bring tourism to her region.

Caroline Yukon is the fourth contender. Yukon is a former child protection worker who has spoken publicly about the difficulties of doing that job in the N.W.T.

Yukon quit the Child and Family Services division in 2014, the year the auditor general delivered its first scathing indictment of the territory's child welfare system.


Tom Beaulieu has decided not to seek re-election in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh this time, and he'll be taking his three terms of experience with him.

That creates a vacuum in the catch-all riding, which collects the communities of Ndilo, Detah, Łutsël K'é and Fort Resolution in the territory's southeast.

With the sun setting on the mining industry in the region, whoever replaces Beaulieu will likely have lots to say about major infrastructure investments in the Slave Geological Province — and a land claim for the Akaitcho that is more than a decade overdue.

If voters feel braininess is what's needed, they might look to Steve Norn. The former RCMP officer, who announced his bid at the Akaitcho Assembly last month, was once a contestant on Canada's Smartest Person.

He's joined by Paul Betsina, a former Yellowknife Dene First Nation councillor and manager of Det'on Cho Corporation, who's counting on his work with youth and the mining industry to give him the edge.

They'll both face stiff competition from Lila Fraser Erasmsus, who wrote her thesis in political science on applying Dene methods of government to conflict resolution. She's also the daughter of the late two-term MLA Peter Fraser.

The three are joined by Nadine Delorme. Announcing her candidacy by Facebook video, Delorme said her personal grievances are what got her into politics — but her complaints are far from unique. Poor housing and access to care are her ballot box issues.

Finally, taking another stab at politics is former Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief Rick Edjericon. He's no stranger to campaigning, but hasn't always been successful. He's made failed bids for MP and Dene National Chief, and also ran — and lost — in 2015's territorial election.

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