North

Record number of women elected in Northwest Territories

With nine of 19 MLAs elected Tuesday women, the N.W.T. is the jurisdiction with the highest proportion of women legislators in Canada.

9 of 19 MLAs elected on Tuesday are women — a record in N.W.T. and Canada

A record number of women were elected in the Northwest Territories election on Tuesday. From top left, Paulie Chinna, Caroline Cochrane and Julie Green. Centre from left, Caroline Wawzonek, Diane Thom and Lesa Semmler. Bottom from left, Frieda Martselos, Caitlin Cleveland and Katrina Nokleby. (Submitted)

A record number of women have been elected to the Northwest Territories 19th Legislative Assembly — making it the jurisdiction with the highest proportion of women legislators in Canada.

Nine of 19 MLAs elected on Tuesday are women, a far cry from the two elected in the last election in 2015.

"We have made history in the Northwest Territories. So that's huge and that's exciting," said Caroline Cochrane, who was also re-elected Tuesday

She said women focus on family and women's issues, as well as education, health care and child care. The N.W.T.'s ailing child protection system, which has been blasted in auditor general reports, was a hot button election issue. Debate around the future of a potential N.W.T. university also had candidates and constituents talking.

Julie Green, who was also re-elected in Yellowknife Centre, agreed that having more women in office will change the conversation in the legislature.

"I think you'll see that women work differently together and we may also have different priorities," said Green. "And that there will be a different tone to this assembly than there was to previous assemblies. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Historically, the most sitting female MLAs in the Northwest Territories was three. The last legislature adopted the goals of having at least 20 per cent women MLAs following the 2023 election and at least 30 per cent after the 2027 vote.

"We have that now. It's so amazing," said Green.

Lesa Semmler, a nurse and advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, took one of two seats in Inuvik. She was ecstatic about the number of women elected.

"We told the Northwest Territories tonight, we don't need to be given seats. We'll put our names forward, we'll get elected," she said to cheers on Tuesday night.

The territory does not have a party system, but rather a consensus government where MLAs select cabinet and premier. On Oct. 18 candidates will put their names forward for consideration. The vote will take place Oct. 24 (the dates are subject to approval from the 19 elected members).

Caroline Cochrane was re-elected in the Range Lake district. Cochrane was first elected in 2015 and served in cabinet. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Cochrane previously served on cabinet and hopes to hold a ministerial position in the 19th Assembly. 

"We've never had more than one cabinet [member] as a woman" she said. "I'm hoping that one of the women that gets elected will be sitting beside me in cabinet. That's my goal."

The other women elected are engineer Katrina Nokleby, photographer and public servant Caitlin Cleveland and lawyer Caroline Wawzonek in the Yellowknife ridings. 

In the N.W.T. communities, former Salt River First Nations chief Frieda Martselos, self-government negotiator Diane Thom, and newcomer Paulie Chinna took seats.

Women work differently together and we may also have different priorities.- Julie Green, re-elected MLA

Incumbent Kevin O'Reilly was re-elected and said the number of women elected bodes well for the future of the Northwest Territories.

"I'm very, very pleased that we're going to have more women in the assembly and hopefully more women in cabinet," he said. "I think it will change the way we make decisions."

Jane Groenewegen, who was unseated in 2015 after serving as an MLA in Hay River for 20 years, remembers when she was first elected thinking she wanted to have it all.

As a mother to young children then, she said her advice to women is to try to keep balance.

"Don't lose sight of who you are. Don't let this system kind of gobble you up," she said.

"Remember who you are. You have an opportunity to step onto that stage and to serve for a period of time."

With files from Richard Gleeson, Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi

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