Nokleby’s School of Hard Knocks
“In the politics of the Northwest Territories there are two consensus systems. There’s the idealistic consensus that everyone wants based on collaboration and putting people above politics, and then there’s the consensus we appear to have, dominated by secrecy, closed-door meetings, horse trading and career opportunists.” — former Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart in a CBC North opinion column.
It would be easy to simply say it’s time to move on after last week’s failed ousting of a cabinet minister by some malcontent MLAs.
But I never take the easy way out of anything.
And this botched political stunt was so incredibly politically tone deaf and clearly wrongheaded, I think it deserves a post-mortem. The attempted firing of Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Katrina Nokleby — who is also minister of Infrastructure and minister Responsible for the Worker’s Safety and Compensation — was met by an outpouring of opposition from the public so immense, it forced those behind the move to retreat back into their holes.
The whole caper exposed some deep faults with the NWT’s consensus style of government. It also showed how the “old guard” can be so quick to defend the status quo and defend their little fiefdoms. It also raised some serious questions as to how the 19th Legislative Assembly will lead the territory through what is shaping up to be the most trying time in our history.
On Wednesday, May 27, rookie Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn stated in the house that in two days he would move a motion that the Assembly “formally revokes the pleasure of the Assembly from the appointment of the honourable Member for Great Slave as a Member of the Executive Council,” and for the opening in cabinet to be filled by a regular MLA. The motion was seconded by rookie Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, a person who failed to let it be known during last fall’s election that he owed almost $2 million to the GNWT after defaulting on a business loan.
I was mightily perturbed when I heard that. So I spent three hours Wednesday night anger writing a blog that as of this morning has been read 1,500 times. If you want more context for this piece today, give it a read.
Norn chairs the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly is deputy chair of the committee. All remaining are regular members — MLAs not on the executive council — are part of this committee. It appears 10 voted in favour of the motion, with one MLA abstaining.
Ironically, the committee has approved a policy on accessibility and transparency of committee work and meetings. Except when they discuss trashing a perfectly good minister of the Crown.
In the fallout of this failed ministerial coup, some MLAs have tried to explain why they did what they did.
And those statements are what I will be examining today. I found some of them to be quite revealing.
JULIE “MEAN GIRL” GREEN:
“If women see women in positions of leadership, then they can see themselves in that position, as well.” — Green told Yellowknifer in 2019.
On Friday, Green confirmed to Cabin Radio that she “did plan to support the motion” to remove Nokleby.
Why? Green said the motion came about because of issues related “to the relationship between the Minister of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) and Infrastructure and the regular members.”
In a Facebook post, Green stated the two departments Nokleby is responsible for are incredibly important to the economic recovery of the NWT during this pause in the pandemic, and both expectations and scrutiny are elevated.
Nice word salad. Allow me to add some dressing.
Green seems to expect Nokleby to have the solution to a government-created economic crisis that no elected official across the country seems to have a good handle on. Sure, more money can be flowed to the businesses — and there are myriad of territorial and federal funding programs available — but the NWT also sits in a sweet, safe spot in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while we have managed to keep the ‘rona from menacing us, the GNWT still refuses to allow most businesses to re-open. Corporate welfare can’t last forever.
We need a more logical and realistic emergency plan from Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola — and some more logical thinking from Premier Caroline Cochrane, who has basically ceded power to the doctor — to help the business community.
Why isn’t Green asking for that, instead of choosing the taxpayer support route?
Because she is a socialist. And a hypocrite.
Green has been the loudest voice in the room to get more women involved in politics. Green organized campaign schools for women and chaired the Special Committee to Increase the Representation of Women.
Prior to the fall 2019 territorial election, the NWT had had the lowest number of female politicians of any Canadian legislature, with two women in the house, or 10.5 per cent of members.
But on Oct. 1, voters decided it was time for a gender-balanced legislature — the only one in Canada — with nine female MLAs out of 19. Those newly elected — or re-elected — folks then chose Cochrane, who is Métis, as premier.
In a campaign interview with Cabin Radio last summer, Green said of all her accomplishments during her first term she was most proud of having 22 women on ballots in constituencies across the NWT.
“I was the driver of that, it was my motion that kicked things off. I chaired the committee, we went to 10 communities, I met many of the women who are now running. I then, as a citizen, provided Women on the Ballot training for six weeks, and many of the women who came to that training are now candidates.”
Interestingly, in an interview with News/North in March marking International Women’s Day, Nokleby said the campaign schools’ most important impact, “was the encouragement of other women,” which she described as “overwhelming.”
In that interview with Cabin Radio, Green didn’t deny aspiring to be selected for a cabinet position.
“That’s kind-of an open question for me at this point,” she told interviewer Ollie Williams.
Green offered herself up, but wasn’t chosen by her peers for a cabinet post. Instead, she watched as a hard-working and knowledgable Nokleby quickly created a national profile for herself as she advocated for the NWT’s key industry of mining and exploration.
Perhaps that was just too much for Green to bear. So after just seven months, she decided to turn her back on a woman politician. This, as other female ministers clearly struggled openly with the demands of their portfolios.
“The motion was a last resort following other efforts at resolution that were unsuccessful,” Green stated in her Friday Facebook post. “Maybe the motion was too big a hammer for the problem at hand, but it did focus our attention on a resolution and a constructive path forward.
“My colleagues and I have promised to assist her with constructive oversight and accountability to ensure we successfully rebuild our economy. I now consider this issue closed.”
Perhaps it would be better for all if Green were to step aside and let Nokleby do her job. It’s not as if Green doesn’t have work to do in her constituency of Yellowknife Centre, a place she has done exactly zip for. Except to place a Sobering Centre/Day Shelter — better known as a drunk tank — right in the middle of the business district, causing plenty of harm to that sector.
KEVIN “PROVOCATEUR” O’REILLY:
“I look forward to having an improved relationship with all of cabinet.” — O’Reilly told Cabin Radio while campaigning last year.
The other city MLA to unsuccessfully lobby for a cabinet post was Frame Lake’s Kevin O’Reilly, who is chiefly concerned about climate change; he campaigned on creating a Climate Crisis Act, designed to ensure “the investments we make … consider climate-change implications.”
He is also a major supporter of unionized workers and casts sideways glances at major infrastructure projects in favour of social programming.
In a campaign interview last September, Cabin Radio asked O’Reilly about his relationship with cabinet in the 18th Legislative Assembly:
- CABIN: “More than once from you we’ve heard, in the past four years, the complaint that cabinet were not working collaboratively with regular MLAs. Conversely, cabinet has more than once complained that you are not working collaboratively with cabinet. How do you propose to fix that reputation that you, as 19 MLAs, got in the past four years?”
- O’REILLY: “I’m looking forward to some new leadership at the top. We’re going to have a different premier in the next assembly and I think that’s going to be a very positive development. And I look forward to having an improved relationship with all of cabinet.”
So how’s that going so far, Kevin?
It’s pretty clear O’Reilly and Nokleby approach politics from different perspectives.
But it’s also clear the NWT needs mining and gas to augment the only other significant source of revenue, federal transfers. So that means we need to provide the transportation and power infrastructure to support that sector.
In a late Friday post to Facebook, O’Reilly lamented, “It has been an exhausting week at the Legislative Assembly.”
He said there had been “a productive” meeting Friday morning with Cochrane, Nokleby and regular MLAs.
He said, “there are no questions or issues about the minister’s ethical conduct, honesty, or integrity,” rather he had “concerns around performance largely relate to the lack of progress on economic recovery during the pandemic.”
Well, that makes little sense. How does one make “progress on economic recovery,” when the GNWT has gone along with the chief public health officer’s advice to close the economy and keep people huddled inside their homes? This when we have no active cases of COVID-19, have never had any community spread and our borders are closed to all but essential travel.
As a Yellowknife MLA, he should be pushing to allow the economy to re-open.
Then O’Reilly makes a really ridiculous and condescending statement:
“There is no doubt that the minister works very hard and is knowledgeable in her fields of study and practice, and I commend her for that. However, government, politics and this Legislative Assembly is not an engineering project. It is about people and relationships, things that I need to constantly be reminded of and have a long way to go myself.”
I’d prefer a minister who actually gets things done. I don’t care if she steps on some MLA toes or bruises some failed cabinet candidates’ egos.
At least he offered an apology to Nokleby: “I regret that the events of the past few days have likely caused the minister, her family and friends distress, and I am sorry for that. However, I must assess performance as objectively as I possibly can. This is about getting results for NWT residents and whether we have the right team in place to do this for the remaining part of our term.”
AS FOR THE REST OF THE NAYS AND YAYS:
“Katrina is a bit of a bull in a china shop at times and sometimes she’s not ministerial, but I don’t know if that’s my number-one value. Maybe you sometimes need to be like that.” — Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.
From various news and social media sources, here are what other members of the Assembly have said:
- Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland said many MLAs “are all learning our new roles together and we need to support and encourage one another to do better. For any new minister, I would expect that the learning curve is substantial. I don’t believe that Minister Nokleby … has had a reasonable opportunity to become proficient at (her) job. Therefore, I find a motion for the minister’s removal to be premature. But I will say this as a caution to all of the ministers. Your regular member colleagues want cabinet ministers who are capable of leading, and giving political direction to the government. This House expects you to lead and communicate the views of this Assembly to your departments.”
- Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson told constituents on Thursday in an online constituency meeting he did not support the motion. “I don’t think the concerns regarding Katrina are completely unfounded. She was a new minister, new to politics, jumped straight into a big portfolio … and then a pandemic hit,” he said. “Is there other politics going on, and scheming, and the usual nonsense? Yeah. I guess so.”
- Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek, who is Yellowknife South MLA, said: “I understand now that communication and relationships between MLAs and cabinet exist within a natural, yet unfortunate, divide that was made more real during this pandemic’s imposed separation.
Cabin Radio reported Jackson Lafferty, Lesa Semmler, Ron Bonnetrouge, Rocky Simpson, Frieda Martselos, and Jackie Jacobson did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Norn reportedly said he only put forth the notice of motion as the committee chair, acting on the its behalf. His seconder Simpson has not commented.
Nokleby and Premier Caroline Cochrane issued a joint statement late Friday.
- Stated Cochrane: “I have complete confidence in Minister Nokleby and can tell you that she and I – and all Ministers – are committed to working together with all Members on behalf of Northwest Territories residents, and will continue to find ways to improve our working relationships and collaboration.”
- Stated Nokleby: “Since being elected, it has been my goal to ensure that efforts for change were being directed at the issues that matter most, and will have the greatest impact on residents of the Northwest Territories. That was my goal then, and remains true today. In my role as minister, I can, and have been a loud and strong voice for our territory. It’s a voice and strength I have carried with me all my life, and one that I look forward to continuing to use in my role as minister for the benefit of our territory and residents.”
In an opinion piece on CBC’s website, former Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart says if MLAs want to take out a minister they should be willing to talk about it.
“Northerners keep expecting politics to change by voting in new politicians, but as long as the system stays the same we can expect the same results,” he wrote.
He went on to slam the NWT’s form of consensus government — which, only along with Nunavut, is unique in Canada as it excludes political parties.
“Secrecy is all too common in consensus government and it’s reinforced by the behaviour of MLAs when they refuse to comment on matters of public interest,” he stated.
The NWT will, to my mind, eventually slowly bring in political parties. This consensus style is an experiment that isn’t exactly working.
But I digress.
In the end of all of this, I trust that Minister Katrina Nokleby will emerge a much stronger person and politician, as her mandate has been bolstered by a massive outcry of public and peer support.