Shane Thompson has joined RJ Simpson in lining up a bid to become the Northwest Territories’ next premier.
Some of those who lost to him in the Nahendeh district, meanwhile, say he shouldn’t even run for cabinet this time around.
Thompson came through a six-way contest to hold the seat for a third term, having entered November’s election as the NWT’s environment and communities minister.
Simpson easily won his Hay River North district and has declared he’ll bid to become the next premier, having done the same in 2019 before being defeated by Caroline Cochrane.
Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA-elect Lesa Semmler and Yellowknife South’s acclaimed Caroline Wawzonek are also potential contenders.
Thompson told Cabin Radio he decided to run for premier after consulting with “a number of individuals that I respect, Indigenous leadership.”
He said an Elder had told him: “You need to look at what’s best for the Territories and the region.”
“It’s about the work you’ve got to do behind the scenes. It’s about making sure you bring forth your issues to the minister and you follow up,” Thompson said. “It’s about working for the people … it will be about 40 years of my life serving people, and it’s an honour, when you look at it.”
Thompson secured his seat with 326 votes. Mavis Cli-Michaud received 185, Sharon Allen 149, Hillary Deneron 149 votes, Les Wright 115 and Josh Campbell 21.
In 2019, he won the district in a four-way contest with well over 50 percent of the vote. Four years later, his vote share this week was 34.5 percent.
To runner-up Cli-Michaud, “65.5 percent of the people spoke and said they wanted change.”
“I think that’s a wake-up call for our MLA,” Cli-Michaud continued. “We have to hold him accountable, because 65.5 percent said we aren’t happy.”
Thompson said the Nahendeh election had been “very negative” because of verbal “attacks” and “rumours” about him. He said people who feel he shouldn’t be running for cabinet “need to explain why,” adding: “I take it seriously.”
Cli-Michaud is one of those who doesn’t believe Thompson should run for cabinet or premier.
“Our MLA here should just stay as an MLA and not be a minister, so that he can work for the people,” Cli-Michaud said. “No minister, no premier. He needs to work for the people in Nahendeh.”
Cli-Michaud instead wants Wawzonek, the finance and industry minister for most of the past four years, to be the next premier.
“This is consensus government. Obviously, there’s the traditions of picking different regions for the premiership,” Wawzonek said on Thursday, referring to the convention cited by some territorial politicians that leadership of the NWT should be shared between Yellowknife and smaller communities.
The premier has been from a Yellowknife district since 2011.
“Before I make any assumptions, I certainly would want to have that chance to talk to folks,” Wawzonek said.
“Do we want to return to that tradition? I think that is really the question. It’s not something I would decide alone.”
What Nahendeh’s other candidates think
Deneron, too, said Nahendeh’s representative should be a regular MLA this time around – as Thompson was in his first term, from 2015 to 2019.
“People want to see our MLA more visible in our communities, in the smaller communities,” Deneron said. “When you put your name in for cabinet or premier, it takes away the focus of being able to fully represent your region.”
Campbell said Thompson had been “put on notice by the voters” and suggested Wawzonek, Simpson or Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon would make strong options to lead the territory.
Allen said she hopes the next assembly will focus on reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
“In order to reconcile with the people that you’re representing, you need to learn, you need to listen, and then you need to act … it’s the deep, underlying issues that our people grapple with,” Allen said.
“I’m hoping that the current MLA, the re-elected incumbent, is going to take some notes and do the necessary leg work of visiting his riding and his constituents.
“There are huge gaps in lateral oppression and systemic racism that exist where we live. It’s palpable. People can see it, they can feel it.”
Thompson ‘a tough cookie’
Among the Dehcho’s Indigenous leaders, Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian thinks Simpson or Range Lake MLA-elect Kieron Testart would make strong candidates for the premiership.
“If we can align ourselves with old allies, I think we can make things happen,” said Norwegian.
“I’m hoping there’s a refreshed outlook on how they’re going to deal with business in this part of the area. I’m hoping they’re more open.”
“I’m willing to give it another go with Shane Thompson,” he added. “He’s a tough cookie to deal with.”
Chief Kele Antoine of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation said: “Sixty-five percent of the voters that turned up to the polls were not happy with the status quo. How will the re-elected incumbent mitigate that kind of split voters?”
Antoine believes Thompson should focus on issues in the Nahendeh region as a regular MLA, such as supporting teachers and students and the “age-old items” of healthcare and housing.
“I think the MLA should really focus on our region this term,” said Antoine. “We didn’t get too much noticeable, quantifiable things done in the region.”
Antoine also points to infrastructure needs like paving roads. Progress on this front would be seen by residents, he said, while helping tourism and the economy.
For the premiership, Antoine says Simpson and Wawzonek would make strong choices.
‘It’s about the people’
Thompson, responding to the thoughts of others in the region, said his record over the past two terms shows that how you handle constituents’ issues “has nothing to do with being a minister or premier.”
He reiterated one of his campaign’s core messages: that he advanced more than 1,000 issues brought to him by residents during his most recent four-year term, even while serving in cabinet.
“Whatever was said is said, and you move on,” Thompson said of any criticisms. “I’m very much about the future.”
“When I dealt with my first issue in the 18th Assembly, I realized it’s not about me, it’s about the people,” he said of his entry to territorial politics in 2015.
“If you come to me with an issue, I need to represent you, as that issue is my most important issue.
“Sometimes you’re gonna win, sometimes you’re gonna lose. But you need to fight for them.”