The NWT’s health minister, Glen Abernethy, says he will stand down at the forthcoming fall 2019 territorial election.
Abernethy announced his decision online on Sunday, following much speculation.
“I’ve enjoyed my time as your MLA, but now is the time for others to walk that path,” he wrote.
Abernethy said he was ready for “new challenges” and raising his son, John, was now his “greatest priority.”
His decision not to seek re-election leaves engineer Katrina Nokleby the only prospective candidate to have declared their intent to run in Yellowknife’s Great Slave district.
Though he had pledged to run again when asked last fall, Abernethy’s future had dominated the territory’s political rumour mill in recent weeks – particularly the suggestion that he would withdraw either before or during the coming election campaign.
The 48-year-old’s present term as Minister of Health and Social Services – widely considered the most testing position in cabinet, given the scale of the NWT’s challenges in those areas – has been marked by a series of critical reports and failings, ranging from a crisis in child protection to highly publicized privacy lapses.
Though other MLAs rarely attempted to place responsibility for the entirety of those issues at Abernethy’s door, he was the subject of an attempt to remove him from office in the fall of 2018. He survived that bid by 11 votes to seven in the legislature.
At the time, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly summed up a commonly held opinion of Abernethy among political observers, stating he was “perhaps our best minister” even as he voted to remove him.
O’Reilly said Abernethy was “receptive and responsive” but added he had been sufficiently disturbed by the Auditor General’s findings regarding child and family services to attempt the minister’s removal.
‘The next chapter’
Abernethy was voted into office in 2007 as the MLA for Great Slave.
Initially a regular MLA, he joined cabinet in 2011 as the justice minister before assuming responsibility for health and social services in 2013. Following the 2015 election, he unsuccessfully challenged Bob McLeod for the premiership.
“I’m going to run again, and hopefully the people of my riding support me,” he told Cabin Radio in October 2018.
However, almost a year later, that sentiment had changed.
“I’ve served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Great Slave for 12 years. I’m proud of what I helped accomplish,” he wrote on Sunday.
“For me, it’s time for a change. They say that life begins at 50. Well, I’m 48, and I’m ready for new challenges and excited about pursuing new opportunities. I don’t know what these are yet but I’m excited by the possibilities.”
Abernethy said his family was now the most important aspect of his life – particularly his young son, John.
“Some people become parents easily. Some people even accidentally. For Carolyn and me, our path to parenthood was neither easy nor accidental. I’m so lucky to have Carolyn and John in my life. I’ve been so blessed with this beautiful family,” Abernethy wrote.
“The greatest roles I’ll ever have are being husband to Carolyn and Daddy to John.
“As I watch John grow, I can’t wait for the next chapter of our life together. This is my greatest priority.”
In response to his announcement, April Martel – Chief of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation – wrote: “Glen was amazing. Thank you for your years of service.”
Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne, who voted for Abernethy’s removal from office last fall, wrote: “Your contributions to this great territory have been significant and have made it even greater. Your legacy as a public representative will endure for many years to come.”
Nokleby, the prospective Great Slave candidate, wrote beneath his announcement: “Thank you for being such a good role model.”