Ministers Glen Abernethy and Wally Schumann will face motions in the legislature on Wednesday designed to remove them from power.
On Monday, regular MLAs gave notice of motions to remove the duo from the Executive Council, otherwise known as the cabinet – which comprises the Premier of the NWT and six ministers.
Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, seconded by Dehcho MLA Michael Nadli, read out a motion calling for the removal of Schumann from cabinet and recommending one of the regular MLAs, to be decided, replace him.
Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson, seconded by Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne, read out a similar motion aimed at Abernethy.
Schumann is the minister responsible for industry, tourism, and investment, as well as infrastructure. Abernethy is the health and social services minister.
Schumann has spent weeks under fire for the territory’s travails in being forced to cancel barge resupply to Paulatuk and two Nunavut communities, then organize replacement supply services by air.
Abernethy faced a range of fiercely worded statements from regular MLAs last week, following the publication of a report from the Auditor General of Canada which said child protection services in the territory had, in many instances, deteriorated over the past four years.
Schumann says impassable ice was to blame for the barge’s cancellation and believes the government’s response is significantly better, and cheaper for residents, than if a private company had been handling barge shipments as in the past.
Abernethy says his department has spent years working to address a daunting range of inadequacies and has made progress on fronts not documented by the Auditor General’s report, adding demonstrable steps have already been taken to address many of the faults that report found.
The coordinated nature of Monday’s announcements suggests at least four members – those advancing the motions – will vote in favour of both.
“As best I can tell, it’s going to be very close,” a senior government official told Cabin Radio, adding they believed nine members to be in favour of each motion, and nine opposed.
A simple majority is required for each motion to pass.
The power to remove ministers from their portfolios rests with Premier Bob McLeod, but – under the territory’s consensus government system – the legislature as a whole decides who gets to be in cabinet in the first place.
The move is not without precedent.
In 2009, MLAs voted unanimously – 16-0 – to remove Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya from cabinet.
Yakeleya had already been stripped of his ministerial portfolios by then-Premier Floyd Roland, shortly before facing a charge of sexual assault. He was found not guilty the following year.
Yakeleya remained a regular MLA until 2015.
It’s not clear which of the current crop of regular MLAs would actually want to take on either ministerial appointment, should either or both of Wednesday’s votes result in a minister departing.
Any appointment would only be effective until the next territorial election in the fall of 2019, leaving little time to make a discernible impact on, for example, barge resupply operations or child protection services – while leaving a new appointee open to criticism, whether warranted or not, during the election campaign if the same problems linger.