Push to get women into territorial politics a success

Minister Caroline Cochrane speaks at a funding announcement on August 8, 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Caroline Cochrane speaks at a funding announcement on August 8, 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

A concerted effort to get more women into territorial politics succeeded beyond its proponents’ wildest expectations in Tuesday’s election.

Unofficial results showed five Yellowknife districts, both Inuvik districts, and the Thebacha and Sahtu districts all elected female MLAs.

Nine female MLAs is an NWT record by a distance and gives the territory’s legislature the strongest female representation of any jurisdiction in Canada.

“It’s a really exciting time for the NWT as we look to have a better representative legislative assembly, and I think it’s a really exciting time to be a part of that team,” said Caitlin Cleveland, the new MLA-elect for Kam Lake, who defeated incumbent Kieron Testart.



Among female Yellowknife MLAs-elect, Cleveland joins Katrina Nokleby in Great Slave, Caroline Wawzonek in Yellowknife South, Caroline Cochrane in Range Lake, and Julie Green in Yellowknife Centre.

Diane Thom was elected in Inuvik Boot Lake while Lesa Semmler easily won Inuvik Twin Lakes.

In the Sahtu, Paulie Chinna unseated incumbent Daniel McNeely. In Thebacha, a close race showed Frieda Martselos snagging the seat from Denise Yuhas, who led for most of the night.

In complete contrast to the four years ahead, the NWT’s outgoing 18th Legislative Assembly had the fewest female politicians, proportionally, of any legislature in Canada’s provinces and territories. Green and Cochrane were the only women elected in 2015.



A campaign school for women, a special committee, and various other measures designed to make women feel more comfortable running for election appeared to have collectively worked in stunning fashion.

Across the territory, a record 22 female candidates were on Tuesday’s ballot. Nine of 22 women were elected, compared to seven of 33 men. (Three men were acclaimed.)

A special committee of the Legislative Assembly toured communities this year to help female candidates prepare, while campaign schools for women were run throughout the territory.

Tuesday’s results at the territorial level follow success for women at the municipal level last year. In 2018, female mayoral candidates were elected in Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Yellowknife. They were the only women running for the leadership position in each of their towns.

At the time, Mayor of Fort Smith Lynn Napier-Buckley said: “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s a good start that we absolutely need. We need more women running, and not only for municipal elections, but for territorial and federal elections as well … I hope it’s an inspiration to young women.”

A few weeks later, at the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, April Martel was elected as the First Nation’s first female chief.