Julie Green said she would have supported a motion to remove Katrina Nokleby from cabinet as MLAs, with the motion withdrawn, began to share their views.
Having announced on Wednesday that he would introduce a motion to end Nokleby’s six-month term as minister of industry and infrastructure, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn withdrew that motion on Friday.
The motion had received little public support. It appeared unlikely to receive the 10 votes (out of 19 MLAs) required to succeed.
With the motion dead and Nokleby no longer under threat, regular MLAs who had previously been silent on the issue began publishing their views.
Though none immediately agreed to an interview, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green confirmed to Cabin Radio that she “did plan to support the motion” to remove Nokleby.
Green said the motion came about because of issues related “to the relationship between the Minister of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) and Infrastructure and the regular members.”
She had been fiercely critical of ITI’s support for NWT small businesses in questions to Nokleby in the legislature earlier this week.
In a statement by email, Green wrote: “The motion was a last resort following other efforts at resolution that were unsuccessful. Maybe the motion was too big a hammer for the problem at hand, but it did focus our attention on a resolution and a constructive path forward.”
Green said the two departments for which Nokleby holds responsibility “are incredibly important to the economic recovery of the NWT during this pause in the pandemic, and both expectations and scrutiny are elevated.”
Green said she believes the minister “is fully aware of this,” adding: “My colleagues and I have promised to assist her with constructive oversight and accountability to ensure we successfully rebuild our economy. I now consider this issue closed.”
Two years ago, when then-ministers Wally Schumann and Glen Abernethy faced similar votes in the House, Green in both instances voted to support the ministers – who each kept their jobs.
Motion ‘was premature’
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly posted a statement to Facebook which strongly suggested he would have joined Green in supporting the motion to remove Nokleby, though he did not directly say so.
“I want to assure members of the public that attempts were made to resolve these matters well before we arrived at the point of a motion,” O’Reilly wrote.
“There is no doubt that the minister works very hard and is knowledgeable in her fields of study and practice, and I commend her for that. However, government, politics, and this Legislative Assembly is not an engineering project,” he continued, referring to Nokleby’s profession.
“There are no questions or issues about the minister’s ethical conduct, honesty, or integrity in my mind. My concerns around performance largely relate to the lack of progress on economic recovery during the pandemic.”
O’Reilly publicly apologized to the minister for what he said was a three-day period that “likely caused the minister, her family, and friends distress.”
“As stressful as it has been for us all,” he wrote, “we must rise up and work together for the betterment of the NWT. I commit to do my part.”
Jackson Lafferty, Lesa Semmler, Ron Bonnetrouge, Rocky Simpson, Frieda Martselos, and Jackie Jacobson did not respond to repeated requests for comment and had made no public statement on the issue as of 6pm on Friday.
Nord told constituents, via his Facebook page, that he would respond personally to their questions and might publish a video explaining his views.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, sharing a statement she had planned to deliver if a debate on Nokleby’s future had proceeded, suggested both ministers and regular MLAs were still new in their posts and needed time.
“Right now is our probationary period. Today we are all learning our new roles together and we need to support and encourage one another to do better,” Cleveland wrote.
She said she had at no point supported the motion.
“For any new minister, I would expect that the learning curve is substantial,” read Cleveland’s statement. “I don’t believe that Minister Nokleby … has had a reasonable opportunity to become proficient at [her] job. Therefore, I find a motion for the minister’s removal to be premature.
“But I will say this as a caution to all of the ministers. Your regular member colleagues want cabinet ministers who are capable of leading, and giving political direction to the government. This House expects you to lead and communicate the views of this Assembly to your departments.”
Rylund Johnson, the Yellowknife North MLA, had already set out his position to constituents on Thursday evening. He was the only MLA to make his position clear prior to Friday’s events at the legislature.
Pandemic ‘made divide more real’
Nokleby and Premier Caroline Cochrane issued a joint statement on Friday evening.
In it, they said all MLAs were still learning to “work together effectively” and laid some blame for the apparent communications breakdown on the pandemic and challenges of working remotely.
The two said they would not discuss details of a Friday morning meeting with regular MLAs but stated: “We need to put the people of the Northwest Territories first and make good on the promise to work together to deliver results and do government differently.”
Nokleby added: “Since being elected, it has been my goal to ensure that efforts for change were being directed at the issues that matter most, and will have the greatest impact on residents of the Northwest Territories.
“That was my goal then, and remains true today. In my role as minister I can and have been a loud and strong voice for our territory.
“It’s a voice and strength I have carried with me all my life, and one that I look forward to continuing to use in my role as minister for the benefit of our territory and residents.”
Caroline Wawzonek, the Yellowknife South MLA and finance minister, said in a Facebook post: “One common theme was frustration regarding the lack of information about what was happening or why. These concerns are totally understandable.
“I understand now that communication and relationships between MLAs and cabinet exist within a natural, yet unfortunate, divide that was made more real during this pandemic’s imposed separation.
“It is a divide that we all said we would work to break down and I’m deeply committed to doing so. I believe we have had an opportunity to renew our relationships over this past week, and I intend to continue the work of building and rebuilding our communication and collaboration moving forward.”
David Connelly, an NWT-based mining consultant, said by email Nokleby “comes out of this stronger than when she went in.”
The mining industry had been vocal in its support for the minister, who holds responsibility for mining and has defended the right of NWT diamond mines to remain open during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the risks associated with southern workers travelling to the territory’s remote work sites.
“The ordinary members must have better things to do on their first days back during a serious crisis than waste time on petty politics,” Connelly said.
“The minister is pushing things forward and accomplishing a lot in challenging times.”
MLAs always start and finish their legislative business early on Fridays while the House is sitting, so that politicians can return to their electoral districts for the weekend.
The House will resume sitting on Monday afternoon. Eight more days of the current session at the legislature remain, spread over the next two weeks.
Both Wawzonek and Green said the week’s political events had made the past few days, in Wawzonek’s words, “long and emotional.”
Green characterized the week as “one of the toughest weeks of my life.”