Rylund Johnson broke the silence of NWT regular MLAs on Thursday evening to say he believes Katrina Nokleby should remain in cabinet.
Steve Norn, who chairs a committee of all 11 regular MLAs, has said he will move a motion on Friday seeking Nokleby’s removal from cabinet and replacement with one of those 11.
“I’m not in favour of [the motion] being brought to the floor and if it does, I won’t be voting in favour of it,” Johnson told more than 70 of his Yellowknife North constituents by video link on Thursday evening.
“Most people don’t want this to be happening. They think it’s stupid. I get that, and I wish politics was better too, trust me,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think that this will happen, but we will see.”
Johnson is the first of the 11 regular MLAs to directly address Friday’s debate and vote. The other 10 have been silent on the issue, though Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green set out some concerns about Nokleby’s performance while at the legislature earlier on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Premier Caroline Cochrane issued a short statement in support of her minister on Thursday evening.
“The Premier has complete confidence in Minister Nokleby and will be standing in support of her during the debate on the motion on Friday,” a spokesperson for cabinet told Cabin Radio by email.
Earlier, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines had also voiced its support for Nokleby – who holds responsibility for mining – in an open letter.
Nokleby leads the departments of infrastructure and industry, tourism, and investment (ITI).
Speaking to constituents, Johnson said he could not speak to his colleagues’ motives for bringing forward the motion.
Norn is duty-bound to bring forward the motion, the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA told Cabin Radio earlier this week, as he is the chair of the accountability and oversight committee, which he said had directed him to move the motion.
Rocky Simpson, the Hay River South MLA, is set to second the motion.
“So much of this is done behind closed doors and there are different reasons for that,” Johnson acknowledged. He did not go into detail about why Nokleby may be facing removal.
“There is no big, smoking gun here,” he said. “Katrina has not done anything scandalous.”
“I’m not in support of this motion for a lot of reasons,” he continued. “Removing a minister in the middle of a pandemic is not the best time to do it.
“If you were going to remove a minister, you should probably ask a lot of questions and give them some clear goals. If they don’t meet those goals, you build a narrative.”
‘Bull in a china shop’
Johnson said he had a “long list of issues” with Nokleby’s two departments. In particular, he said, there were problems with delays in the procurement process and help for small businesses had been lacking.
“I don’t think the concerns regarding Katrina are completely unfounded. She was a new minister, new to politics, jumped straight into a big portfolio … and then a pandemic hit,” he said.
“Is there other politics going on, and scheming, and the usual nonsense? Yeah. I guess so. The problem is I’m always the last to know anything, I tend to zone a lot of that out.
“I think Katrina will admit there are things she could have done better … but this isn’t all bad. She’s one of the few people who knows the mining industry and there’s a reason she has ITI. There’s a reason she has those departments [and she has] a level of expertise that I’ll never understand.”
He dismissed concerns that Simpson had a conflict of interest in seconding a motion to remove Nokleby. Simpson’s company owes significantly more than $1 million to the Business Development and Investment Corporation, which Nokleby oversees as minister.
Johnson said if Simpson ever asked a minister, “Pay off my debts,” that would amount to a clear conflict, but he felt the MLA was entitled to second motions and vote on matters related to ministers.
The Yellowknife North MLA added that however this week’s episode ends, it demonstrates a degree of breakdown in communication between the territory’s 19 MLAs.
“Tomorrow will happen, and then clearly all of us as elected leaders need to go have a barbecue or something and talk some things out,” he said, adding some of his colleagues “clearly need to go and sit in Katrina’s office and hash some things out.”
He added: “Katrina is a bit of a bull in a china shop at times and sometimes she’s not ministerial, but I don’t know if that’s my number-one value. Maybe you sometimes need to be like that.
“I encourage all of our ministers to have a personality that’s much more than just your typical ministerial bureaucrat.”