The territorial government filled a gap in its senior management by naming Erin Kelly its new deputy minister of environment and natural resources on Tuesday.
Deputy ministers are the non-elected heads of each territorial government department, and they are accountable to the premier. Premier Caroline Cochrane shuffled many of the territory’s deputy ministers late last year but left the environment post vacant at the time.
Cochrane’s November shuffle saw Joe Dragon, then-deputy minister of the department – known as ENR – moved to infrastructure. Kelly had been acting in the role since.
With a PhD from the University of Alberta in environmental biology and ecology, Kelly’s career has taken her from research in academic settings, to consulting, to joining the Government of the Northwest Territories 10 years ago.
She began as a water specialist, moving up the managerial ranks to associate and assistant deputy minister positions.
The NWT government credits Kelly with helping to lead the territory’s negotiating teams regarding caribou, transboundary water management, and the establishment of Thaidene Nëné.
Kelly has also been the NWT government’s lead on the Giant Mine remediation project, which is currently making its case for a 20-year water licence to begin active remediation of the massively contaminated mine site on the outskirts of Yellowknife.
Kelly was also said to be a key player in the creation of the Mackenzie Data Stream, an open-source platform hosting water quality data from more than 30 communities in the Mackenzie River basin.
In 2016, Kelly was named one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women, a Women’s Executive Network award.
At the time, she was asked by the network what it would take to increase gender equality in her industry. She said she wanted to encourage young women, in particular young Indigenous women, to “consider education and work in the environmental sciences with a focus on linking Western science and traditional knowledge.”
In a news release, Premier Cochrane said Kelly had “proven leadership and experience in natural resource management and environmental protection.”
Her appointment was announced at the same time as the replacement of Aurora College’s president. Andy Bevan, a senior NWT bureaucrat, replaced Tom Weegar in charge of both the college and its transformation into a polytechnic university. Weegar had been in the role less than a year.
The two high-level staffing changes come ahead of the second sitting of the 19th Legislative Assembly, where a new group of MLAs and cabinet will spend 27 days debating, among other issues, the incoming government’s first budget.