As he promised, newly elected Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson on Wednesday publicly posted his choices for premier, speaker, and cabinet in Thursday’s vote.
On Thursday, the territory’s 19 MLAs will elect a new premier and six cabinet ministers by secret ballot. However, Johnson had pledged to make public his voting intentions in advance.
Johnson said in a statement he would select Hay River North’s RJ Simpson as the NWT’s next premier and Mackenzie Delta’s Sonny Blake – believed to be the only candidate – as speaker.
Johnson’s cabinet of choice would feature Inuvik duo Lesa Semmler and Diane Thom, Yellowknife MLAs Caroline Cochrane and Caroline Wawzonek, Nahendeh’s Shane Thompson, and new Dehcho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge.
MLAs must abide by a convention of selecting two cabinet members from northern districts, two from the Yellowknife region, and two from the South Slave or Dehcho in Thursday’s vote. Separate secret ballots will be held for each region.
Cochrane, Frieda Martselos, and Jackson Lafferty are the remaining three candidates for premier alongside Simpson.
Johnson was the only MLA to issue a statement through the Legislative Assembly regarding his planned choices. In private, several other MLAs praised his decision but admitted they were concerned about finding it harder to work with the new premier if they had earlier publicly backed a different candidate.
Yellowknife North constituents had been invited to a meeting with Johnson on the weekend to discuss the candidates and make their own recommendations.
“I’m bringing the voice of my constituents and the priorities they elected me on to this vote, as I will to the legislature over the next four years,” Johnson said in Wednesday’s statement.
“That doesn’t mean I plan to move forward with anything but the spirit of consensus and collaboration with whomever ends up sitting on the other side of the house,” he continued.
“Our constituents want us to get things done, and getting things done means working with whoever you need to deliver.
“After input from my constituents … and weighing it all against our territory’s biggest priorities, I have decided this is the best slate of candidates to represent our regions and our territory in leadership.”
The Northwest Territories should know the identity of its new premier by late Thursday morning, if all runs to plan. The makeup of its cabinet will follow.
The premier then assigns individual portfolios (in other words, departments) to ministers at a later date.
The premier, cabinet, and speaker are to be formally sworn in on Friday, a day after the vote.