Thebacha MLA and deputy premier Michael Miltenberger has announced he will attempt to win his fifth-straight term in the territorial legislature when voters go to the polls later this year.
Miltenberger made the announcement in a Journal interview last weekend, saying he would like to help steer the NWT through the crucial next four years.
“There are huge water issues, we’re negotiating the transboundary agreements, and the devolution deal negotiations underway,” Miltenberger said.
“I’m already at the table,” he added. “I’ll continue to put all my skills to work, if the opportunity presents itself to represent the people of Fort Smith.”
Miltenberger’s decision to run again came in a week where NWT Premier Floyd Roland told the legislature he would be stepping away from territorial politics once the 16th assembly ends in August.
Long-time MLA David Krutko of the Mackenzie Delta also announced last week he would not be seeking re-election in October.
Former Health Minister Sandy Lee stepped down to run as the Conservative candidate in the last federal election. Lee has stated publicly she will not run again in the territorial election.
The other four-term MLA, Jane Groenewegen of Hay River, stated in a tearful legislative speech two years ago that she would not run again, after the inquiry into Roland’s extramarital affair found that Roland could remain as premier.
That leaves Miltenberger as the only MLA with a shot at a fifth term, which would tie former MLA Tom Butters as the longest-serving member in NWT history. Butters won five elections between 1970 and 1991 before stepping down.
Miltenberger, who has served as Environment, Health and Finance Minister as well as deputy premier, is widely expected to be in the running for premier if he were to win the Thebacha seat.
When asked whether he was looking to become premier, Miltenberger said he is not taking anything for granted.
“I have to get the mandate from the people of Fort Smith,” he said.
Roland’s government has come under fire over numerous issues during the past four years, many of them with Miltenberger front and center.
Both the signing of the devolution agreement and the caribou hunting ban were seen by some Aboriginal leaders as decisions made by the government of the NWT without consulting the First Nation leaders.
Miltenberger defended both decisions, saying the government had to take the initiative to get any progress on the files.
“We could have sat back and argued about a caribou ban, and we would have nothing of a herd left to speak of and everyone would be pillorying us now for not having the gumption to make tough decisions,” Miltenberger said. “As for devolution, if we hadn’t pushed it we would be here for the next 30 years without a deal. Now we’ve got it started, and we’ve got the majority of Northerners supporting this issue.”
The Thebacha MLA, first elected to territorial politics in 1996 after serving as Mayor of Fort Smith, said he believes moving devolution forward will be the most important task and “will dominate” the upcoming 17th assembly.
“The big question is how do you design the government to ensure that many of the 175 jobs that will be coming North under devolution get put into the communities outside of Yellowknife.”
Miltenberger listed among his priorities in the Thebacha riding: completing the massive renovation of the health centre, “fixing the situation with the fire Centre” so it is moved into its own new home and out of the high-rent federal building to allow for further expansion there, as well as his ongoing efforts to provide new housing and support community infrastructure.