Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger is gearing up for what he said is even more stressful than an election campaign - running for premier.
Equating the process to the papal conclave at the Vatican where cardinals meet in St. Peter’s Basilica to select the new pope, Miltenberger said the new assembly must gather in their own dome, spending three weeks together hammering out priorities, learning roles and taking each other’s measure in a confined space.
“The intensity levels ratchet up as we go along, and the temperature rises,” Miltenberger told The Journal. “There’s a smaller number of people (than during the election for MLA), you’re in a confined space for hours together for days. There’s politics, priorities, personal agendas, it’s very fluid.”
Newly elected MLAs begin their orientation on October 12 and are joined by the rest of the incumbents on October 15. From there they will have until the proposed date for the Territorial Leadership Committee (TLC) selection – October 26 – to get to know each other and build the political alliances necessary for securing a cabinet position.
“At the end of the day, beyond all the predictions and the pundits and the diviners, it comes down to 19 MLAs and the list of priorities they will lay out, with the recognition that we need the best people possible at the helm to implement those priorities,” said Miltenberger.
At least four others have publicly shown interest in the premier’s seat since the election on October 3. Yellowknife Kam Lake MLA David Ramsay is the latest to add his name to the growing list, which so far includes Bob McLeod for Yellowknife South, Kevin Meninoche for Nahendeh and Norman Yakelaya for Sahtu, along with Miltenberger.
Members self-nominate for the premier position. During the TLC process, each candidate is entitled to give a 20-minute presentation, followed by three questions per candidate from each MLA.
Then rounds of secret ballots are cast until one person receives more than 50 per cent of the vote. Five more members are chosen for cabinet seats and the remaining 11 form the unofficial opposition of “ordinary members.”
Miltenberger said the decision will most likely come down to who has already cut their teeth as a minister. “Cabinet experience will be at a premium,” he said. “With the departure of certain ones, there’s not a lot of cabinet experience left.”
As for his own platform, he sees devolution as the main priority for the 17th Assembly.
“We can no longer rely on a government 5,000 km away often with a different agenda than us and as disconnected from the land here as possible,” he said. “That’s the primary goal for us. It has huge implications for the environment, the way we manage ourselves as a government.”
Tim Mercer, clerk for the legislative assembly, said the proposed date for the TLC, like most of the selection process, is flexible and depends on the will of the MLAs. This year the date has been scheduled a week later than usual for the first time, said Mercer, in order to give more time to the MLAs to consult with their communities, local Aboriginal governments and colleagues before the selection.
But, he said, nothing is set in stone.
“It’s up to the newly elected MLAs to determine when they want to elect the leadership,” said Mercer. “They may decide they want to spend more time together doing strategic planning, or orientation. Or they may decide that they want it done quicker and get to work as an assembly right away.”
The assembly will also discuss the selection process itself to decide whether or not they would like to see changes in the way leadership is chosen.
“Those are political decisions that need to be reviewed and made,” said Mercer. “We don’t throw them into a process, nothing is written in stone. It is up to the new group to decide on the process. Nothing is forced on them.”