Norn knocks Nokleby: A non-confidence motion after just 7 months?
After watching as much as I could of the NWT Legislative Assembly’s daily question period — deciding there are a couple of ministers who are clearly operating way out of their league — I clicked it off and went about other mind-numbing COVID-19 lockdown activities.
Such as brushing my cats, eating cheese and having a nap.
But then came a series of tweet alerts on my phone:
- @CabinRadio: Katrina Nokleby, the infrastructure and industry minister, faces removal from cabinet after just six months in office. MLAs will vote on her future on Friday after Steve Norn introduced a motion calling for her to lose her two ministerial posts.
- @NNSLonline: MLA Norn tables motion to remove Nokleby from cabinet.
- @CBC North: NWT MLA moves to oust minister of industry, tourism and investment in confidence vote.
Good bloody grief. Katrina Nokleby is one of the success stories of last fall’s election. She managed to easily defeat her radical lefty opponent in the constituency of Great Slave (where I live). She is a bright, accomplished geological engineer who is the perfect person to be Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Minister of Infrastructure and Minister Responsible for the Worker’s Safety and Compensation Commission. I’m not going to spend time now detailing her resume, suffice to say she left her career to serve the public.
Now she’s in a cabinet which has very uneven bench strength. At a time when we need the best and brightest to lead us through the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a health minister who can’t answer the simplest of questions posed to her. I know. I’ve watched Diane Thom struggle. I’ve watched Housing and Homelessness Minister Paulie Chinna struggle.
As long as I’m naming names, I have very little confidence in Premier Caroline Cochrane, a self-admitted “progressive” who has shown weak policy direction. In fact, for the past three months, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola has been our defacto premier with little apparent political pushback.
But I digress.
I fail to see how anyone could be critical of Nokleby’s performance in just six months in the role. After all, it took the last assembly half way through their term before trying (unsuccessfully) in 2017 to boot Minister of Justice, Lands and Power Corp. Louis Sebert from cabinet. And he was a complete failure as a minister (recall the scandal surrounding A New Day: Men’s Healing Program or the complete botchery of the NWT Power Corporation file).
In that same previous assembly, I remind folks that it also took a mid-term review to air out grievances over Education Minister Alfred Moses’s failure in handling changes with junior kindergarten, early childhood education and Aurora College.
Then in 2018, Health Minister Glen Abernethy and Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann came under scrutiny, with both surviving non-confidence motions. Abernethy had the most troublesome portfolio and deserved criticism for not improving the awful situation faced by children in foster care. Schumann, to my mind, was an overall good minister who was unfairly targeted on the single mistake on handling barge deliveries for remote communities. But that is an important issue for the several MLAs who represent those regions.
But for Heaven’s sake, what, exactly, could Minister Nokleby have done in six months to draw the ire of rookie Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn — and the seconder of his motion, rookie Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson — to warrant kicking Nokleby in the shins?
This, I note was six months during which Nokleby lost her mother and went through a very public grieving process. And also has had to deal with the COVID-19 mess since March.
During the mid-term performance review in the last assembly, MLAs used some of the following criteria to judge ministerial conduct by: effective leadership; responsiveness to issues related to portfolio mandates; ethical conduct; honesty, integrity, impartiality; commitment to transparency and accountability; open, respectful, and considerate communication with fellow MLAs; ensure regular MLAs are informed of and given opportunity to provide meaningful input into important decisions in a timely and respectful manner; inclusiveness; earns the respect and support of NWT residents by engaging the public, municipal governments, business, NGOs, and the voluntary sector, and so on.
Since being elected, Nokleby has been a strong advocate with a national profile for the mining sector — which provides the lion’s share of non-federal transfer revenue for the NWT.
In the May 21 edition of Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) Magazine Nokleby said a large part of her responsibility going forward is to revive the post-COVID-19 economy — and make sure that money stays in the North.
“We’re in a little bit of a slump right now when it comes to exploration … I need to ensure that I get some of that stuff going again in the territory,” she told the magazine.
“Not having the settled land claims in some of our areas is really hurting investor certainty in the North. We’re really committed to getting those land claims sorted out and finalized so that we have some more ideas about how we can move forward together and have that Indigenous buy-in as well.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is having job performance issues.
By comparison, this week in the Legislature, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green became frustrated when Health Minister Thom couldn’t answer an embarrassingly simple question concerning a very important file:
(Edited for length from Hansard)
MS. GREEN: We’ve been told that testing and contact tracing is key to discovering and isolating COVID-19 cases. That has worked fine so far, but it’s easy to see that it’s more difficult if community spread of the virus begins. Let me start by asking how many tests of either the rapid or standard type the NWT has today?
HON. DIANE THOM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We have a cooperation agreement with the National Microbiology Laboratory …
MS. GREEN: Thank you to the Minister for that answer. It doesn’t give me an idea of the size of your stockpile, but let me try to get at it another way.
(later on …)
MS. GREEN: My next question is: what resources does the department have to conduct contact tracing and what kind of training do staff need to participate in contact tracing?
HON. DIANE THOM: We have two tests here at the Stanton hospital, and there is some training aspect required in order for us to administer it…
MS. GREEN: I’m sorry my question wasn’t clear. I was talking about contact tracing, where staff call all the people who the infected person has been in touch with to try and figure out who else needs to be tested. What is our capacity for contact tracing in the NWT?
HON. DIANE THOM: I can find out for the Member.
But sure, the first target for a non-confidence vote is Nokleby.
Why could that be?
Odd that it came just hours after Cabin Radio ran a blockbuster story with the headline “Infrastructure minister promises to stop companies ‘gaming the system’”
In it, Nokleby said her department will change the way procurement happens to make sure more northerners get work on projects.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said “shell, fake northern companies” are bidding on contracts, then handing much of the work to southerners.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland asked: “Can we as a government … do a bit more project management to be able to maintain the employment actually in the Northwest Territories?”
“Definitely, that is the goal,” said Nokleby, “to not have it [be] a sort of shell company that gets a cut and then just gives everything to the south.
“I do recognize that if we don’t change the language in our contracts, we’re just going to keep letting people game the system, which is what’s happening.”
I have no idea if that story if connected in any way to the motion to have Nokleby ousted.
But it certainly looks suspicious. Just sayin’
Especially since any MLAs looking to take down a wobbly minister have many other easier targets to aim for.
We’ll see what happens on Friday, when the motion will be debated. And too bad Nokleby — and the rest of her constituents — have to wait in some form of purgatory.
Noted OpenNWT’s David Wasylciw, a government watchdog agency, on Twitter:
- @DavidWasylciw: Disappointing that MLAs haven’t had more to say about this. While they can wait for Friday presumably there was (at least some) thought put into it and residents have a right to know what those reasons are and provide feedback to their MLAs in advance of any debate/vote #nwtpoli
All Norn would say to media today was that the decision “wasn’t taken lightly.”
He told Cabin Radio: “We deliberated quite a bit as regular members. The regular members wanted me to put forth that motion and that’s what I did.”
Nokleby issued a statement: “There is a process for discussing and debating non-confidence motions in the House and I want to respect that process. I am not going to comment about the concerns of members until they have had an opportunity to explain them fully in the Legislative Assembly, as part of the debate on this motion.
“Until that time, I do not wish to comment further on this matter.”
So, on her behalf, I have.
And just to note, I am just a supporter of Nokleby and did not contact her before writing this.
UPDATES: Late yesterday, Northern News Services Ltd. managing editor Mike Bryant posted a column reminding folks that the seconder to Steve Norn’s motion, Rocky Simpson, could have a decided interest in Nokleby’s removal, as he owes almost $2 million to the GNWT after defaulting on a loan.
By mid-morning today (Thursday), a petition entitled “Save Minister Katrina Nokleby” was started at Change.org. Meanwhile, by that time, nearly 1,200 people had read this blog.
And on Friday morning, a sheepish-looking Steve Norn stood in the Assembly (pictured below) and withdrew his motion, without explanation, with seconder Rocky Simpson following suit. Nokleby will emerge a much stronger person and politician from this, as her mandate has been bolstered by a massive outcry of public and peer support. Norn has also learned a lesson — or two. One of them being, I hope, humility.