Voters from Nahendeh to Nunakput chose change Monday, ousting incumbent MLAs across the Northwest Territories.
As late as 10 p.m., two hours after the polls closed, races throughout the NWT were within a handful of votes, or tied outright. Election day, Nov. 23 was this week’s press deadline and all results quoted are unofficial.
Jackie Jacobson, Nunakput incumbent and Speaker of the House during the 17th Assembly, lost his seat by just four votes to Herbert Nakimayak, 229 to 224. Nakimayak is a manager at an Iqaluit-based property company with experience with Parks Canada and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.
Just to the south, Inuvik ridings proved loyal, returning incumbents Alfred Moses in Inuvik-Boot Lake and Robert C. McLeod in Inuvik-Twin Lakes, as did Mackenzie Delta, where Frederick Blake Jr. retained his seat.
Shane Thompson, who said he was applying for a job more than running for a seat in a seven-way race, got the nod in Nahendeh, running away with the riding represented by Kevin Menicoche since 2003.
“I want the job of representing all the people of the Nahendeh for the next four years,” he said. “The issues that ‘matter to me and the voters’ are health, education, youth, homes, community and the Dehcho Process and Fort Liard Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. Voting for me, you will get integrity, honesty and experience.”
Surviving a whirlwind of controversy at the outset of the campaign when he spent a week in jail for charges of assault against his spouse and was suspended from the legislative assembly, Deh Cho incumbent Michael Nadli held on to his seat, just besting his closest competitor Ronald Bonnetrouge with 190 votes to 172.
Newcomer and business owner Daniel Mark McNeely took the Sahtu riding, just scraping past Yvonne Doolittle with 239 votes. McNeely has stated in the past that his experience as a business owner made him a strong candidate.
Heave-ho in Hay River, titan toppled in Thebacha
Both five-term incumbent Jane Groenewegen and Robert Bouchard were defeated handily by new Hay River South MLA-elect Wally Schumann and Hay River North MLA-elect Rocky Simpson in what were two of the first races to become clear enough to call but far from the last to see veterans fall.
The results from neighbouring Thebacha were slower to trickle in, all the more time for Fort Smith lawyer and former deputy mayor Louis Sebert to defeat five-term titan incumbent Michael Miltenberger, who spent the last 14 years in cabinet, most recently as minister of finance and environment and natural resources.
Sebert, who finished with 401 votes to Miltenberger’s 363, said Monday night the desire for political change expressed at the municipal and federal levels on Oct. 19, had taken hold at the territorial level as well.
“It’s a little unusual up here (for) several incumbents to lose,” he said. “I didn’t think about that too much during the campaign. I knew it would be difficult because Michael has been a very strong MLA for this riding and (held) virtually every cabinet post. I have very big shoes to fill if I expect to live up to the record he’s set in the last 20 years.”
Sebert said he was never sure of winning, certainly not after the first few polls were posted online and he started out behind. He has not thought ahead to being named to cabinet.
“I felt no matter which candidate won, Fort Smith was going to be well-represented.”
In Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, incumbent and cabinet member Tom Beaulieu swept up the votes, winning the riding with 410 votes to challenger Richard Edjericon’s 177.
“I speak an aboriginal language fluently, I represent all issues presented to me by the people,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in helping the people of my riding and throughout the NWT.”
Those issues include a focus on employment, cost of living, lands and natural resources, addictions and mental health and governance.
Premier McLeod returns
Yellowknife South incumbent and Premier Bob McLeod retained his seat handily, defeating Nigit’stil Norbert, a Gwich’ya Gwich’in from Tsiigehtchic who told the Journal she ran primarily as an act of indigenous resistance.
McLeod said before the election he has unfinished business after eight years in the legislature.
“Devolution is not complete,” he said, responding to an email survey. “We must accelerate the full transfer of authority from the federal government and develop a made in the north regulatory system. We need to be in full control of decisions that will enable other environmentally sustainable resource projects to move forward in a timely manner. I commit that I will work tirelessly to improve the economy and the very real conditions we all live with in Yellowknife South.”
In a much tighter race, Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny fell to his only challenger, Caroline Cochrane, who told the Journal she heard about cost of living on the doorstep during the campaign.
“I am worried about the … unstable economy, implementation of devolution and land claims, lack of community resources and climate change,” she said. “I also believe the GNWT needs more transparency and constituents need more say in GNWT decisions.”
Yellowknife Centre, meanwhile, saw newcomer Julie Green unseat incumbent Robert Hawkins 491-400.
In the battle for Yellowknife North, former city councillor Cory Vanthuyne came out on top in a five-way race, beating his former colleague Dan Wong by only 16 votes.
“Residents rank healthcare, the health of their families, neighbours and those in need as generally the biggest concerns. Folks at the doors have told me they believe government has a key role to play in building supportive environments, but also in helping northerners help themselves,” he said. “I think they prioritize these issues because without our health, we can’t take on the many other issues we are facing with the economy, cost of living and the environment.”
A tight four-way race in Frame Lake ended with Alternatives North candidate Kevin O’Reilly winning the riding with just 156 votes, trailed closely by Jan Fullerton with 141, David Wasylciw with 132 and Roy Erasmus with 117.
Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy won back the Great Slave riding in a landslide against his only opponent Chris Clarke, officially entering his third term in the assembly.
Kieron Testart’s decision to drop out of the running for Liberal candidate in the federal election earlier this year paid off, it seems, as he took the Kam Lake riding away from incumbent and former minister of Justice and Industry, Tourism and Investment David Ramsay.
Incumbent and deputy premier Jackson Lafferty was acclaimed in Monfwi.