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Meet the NWT premier and cabinet you told us you want

The chamber of the Legislative Assembly of The Northwest Territories. Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime
The chamber of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime

Hundreds of people sent us their picks for NWT premier and cabinet after the territorial election. On this page, find out who’d be in charge if it was up to you.

We already know that Lesa Semmler, RJ Simpson, Kieron Testart, Shane Thompson and Caroline Wawzonek are interested in the premier’s job.

Meanwhile, every MLA-elect we could reach told us they had at least some interest in a cabinet role.

So we set up an online survey asking you to select a premier and six other cabinet members – and we received more than 700 responses.

This is not a scientific poll and we’re not pretending an online survey is foolproof. Though we’ve taken care to remove instances of people voting more than once, there are ways to get around that if you’re determined enough. Nor are these results likely to be an accurate representation of how every NWT demographic feels.



In other words, if you’re an MLA, we recommend not relying on an internet radio station’s online survey when you vote for a premier and cabinet in the days ahead.

That said, there aren’t many ways for residents to provide feedback en masse about who they believe should be leading the territory. And there were more votes received in this survey than in 14 of the 19 districts last week.

Under the rules of consensus government, NWT voters don’t get to pick a party and a leader – they simply vote for a local MLA and that’s where their formal participation ends. Insight into how at least some residents feel about the NWT’s leadership is useful.

With those points out of the way, here goes.



Your choice for premier

Almost half of our survey respondents want Caroline Wawzonek to be the premier.

Yellowknife South MLA Wawzonek, the finance minister under Caroline Cochrane, received 48 percent of the vote in our poll. Hay River North MLA RJ Simpson, Cochrane’s education minister, received 34 percent.

No other candidate is close – those two were hundreds of votes above anyone else.

If MLAs select Wawzonek, they’ll be giving the premiership to a Yellowknife politician for the fourth term in a row. Some MLAs from smaller communities (and even some from Yellowknife) have concerns about that.

Simpson was defeated by Cochrane as part of a four-way contest to become premier in 2019. He’s entering his third term in office.

Wawzonek was acclaimed to a second term, meaning nobody ran against her in this month’s election. Simpson had three opponents but won Hay River North convincingly, carrying 66 percent of the vote.

Your choices for cabinet

The seven names selected most for cabinet in our survey are:

  • Caroline Wawzonek
  • RJ Simpson
  • Caitlin Cleveland
  • Lesa Semmler
  • Shane Thompson
  • Shauna Morgan
  • Robert Hawkins

But it’s not as simple as that.



Two important factors are the geographical distribution of cabinet members and whether the lineup changes depending on people’s preferred premier – which it does.

The convention usually followed is that two members of cabinet come from Yellowknife districts, two come from districts north of Yellowknife and two come from districts south of the territorial capital.

Let’s apply that convention to the cabinet picks of everyone who wanted Wawzonek to be premier.

Looking purely at the data for responses where Wawzonek was premier, the cabinet under those geography rules would be:

  • Premier Caroline Wawzonek
  • RJ Simpson (South, selected 82 percent of the time when people chose Wawzonek to lead)
  • Caitlin Cleveland (Yellowknife, 77 percent)
  • Lesa Semmler (North, 67 percent)
  • Shauna Morgan (Yellowknife, 42 percent)
  • Shane Thompson (South, 37 percent)
  • Jane Weyallon Armstrong (North, 26 percent)

If 26 percent feels like a small number, remember the geography restriction removes some Yellowknife MLAs who might have received plenty of votes to join a Wawzonek cabinet but got fewer than Cleveland or Morgan, who maxed out the two Yellowknife seats.

Moreover, there are more than 50,000 combinations you could have chosen. There isn’t a single combination of a premier and six cabinet members that was put forward more than four times over the course of this vote – that’s how varied opinions are.

Turning to Simpson, here are the cabinet members selected most frequently when a respondent chose him to be premier – again, applying the geography restriction:

  • Premier RJ Simpson
  • Caroline Wawzonek (Yellowknife, selected 93 percent of the time when people chose Simpson to lead)
  • Caitlin Cleveland (Yellowknife, 75 percent)
  • Lesa Semmler (North, 71 percent)
  • Shane Thompson (South, 54 percent)
  • Denny Rodgers (North, 33 percent)
  • Jay Macdonald (South, 29 percent)

What are the takeaways?

Deciding on a premier and cabinet is not a popularity contest.



The 19 MLAs about to vote on this will be considering all sorts of other factors: experience, backgrounds, interpersonal relationships, common goals, regional representation, Indigenous representation, gender balance and many more.

MLAs also have to make sure they put forward a cabinet that has well-rounded attributes. For example, can this group of seven people stimulate the economy, adapt to climate change, strengthen education, bolster healthcare and progress reconciliation? The premier chooses who gets which department, but the MLAs are responsible for giving the premier the right people for the job.

That means you can’t just look at these results and say: that’s what people filling out the survey wanted, so that’s the way it should be.

But the results of the survey do make clear that two people were preferred for the premier’s job by a considerable distance, and some MLAs are strong contenders for cabinet.

Based on this survey, the absence of Wawzonek, Simpson, Cleveland or Semmler from cabinet would be a surprise. Each of them was placed into cabinet by more than two-thirds of people responding, and each has made clear a desire for a cabinet position.

Behind them, 10 different MLAs were each named to cabinet by at least 20 percent of people responding to our survey.

November 30 and December 7 are set aside for MLAs to make their choices. We may know who the premier is by the end of November 30, and we are almost certain to know the identities of premier and cabinet by the end of December 7.

Those dates could yet be changed if MLAs collectively agree.