Industry leaders in the NWT expressed surprise and dismay as Premier Caroline Cochrane announced Katrina Nokleby, the industry minister, had been removed from that post.
In a statement on Wednesday, Cochrane said she “no longer had confidence” in Nokleby’s ability to fill the position and work with regular MLAs.
While that statement alluded to communication difficulties among politicians, few specific details exist to explain the decision. It’s not clear if any other factors played a part in the change, which sees Shane Thompson inherit the role of industry minister.
Nokleby remains, for now, a cabinet member without portfolio. Her departure from the industry and infrastructure portfolios comes after several MLAs attempted to have her ousted from cabinet in May.
The industry minister is responsible for, among other sectors, mining, oil and gas, tourism, and agriculture.
Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, told Cabin Radio: “It was a surprise to us. I’m sure it was to most people in the public.
“We had no idea that this was going to be happening, and there’s been no further information on what was behind it other than the premier’s comments about overall performance.”
In May, the chamber issued an open letter supporting Nokleby when a motion to remove her from cabinet first surfaced. Nokleby had supported keeping mines open as essential services throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hoefer said on Thursday it was “disheartening” to see her stripped of her portfolios as the mining industry feels the impacts of Covid-19.
“We’ve already had one of our mines shut down because of Covid,” he said, referring to the Ekati mine, which was temporarily closed by operator Dominion in March and remains out of commission.
“So we’re not in very good shape. [Having] a relationship with a minister who understands the industry is critically important.”
New minister will need time
Kevin Wallington, chair of the NWT Agriculture Association, echoed Hoefer’s sentiments. He said Nokleby and her department had made efforts to connect with farmers and food producers across the territory throughout the pandemic.
“Obviously, we don’t know the inner workings of what’s happening with government,” said Wallington.
“But the connections and relationships that we established so far? We were really encouraged through our interactions with minister Nokleby and her team.”
Farmers must now attempt to re-establish that relationship with a new minister.
“It’s going to take time for the new minister to be brought up to speed,” said Wallington. “Just in terms of that, I think it is a challenge.”
Troy Linington, a spokesperson for the Tu’cho’ Fishers’ Cooperative, said the NWT’s fishing industry had a “productive” relationship with Nokleby and her departure was “a shock.”
Last month, Nokleby’s department signed a memorandum with the cooperative designed to help revitalize the Great Slave Lake fishing industry.
“We were really happy with the way our meetings went, and it was really disappointing to hear the news,” Linington said.
“We felt like we were going in a good direction before and now, it just seems like everything’s in question. We don’t know what these new people in the positions have in mind, what they’re thinking.
“But we did know where Katrina was, what she was thinking, and her plans for the future of our industry especially. So it’s a big question mark for us now.”
Jenni Bruce, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, felt Nokleby’s removal was most likely unrelated to her industry relationships.
“At the end of the day, it’s pretty hard to make sense of it, but I’m assuming it is more to do with internal GNWT issues,” she said.
Cabin Radio reported in May that Bruce’s chamber felt dismissed by the territorial government after its request for a moratorium on commercial evictions during the pandemic was rejected.
However, Bruce clarified this frustration was directed toward other areas of the government, not Nokleby.
“We had strong communication,” she said. “I know it’s been a frustrating time with all the changes [and] businesses having to adapt. Communication was definitely frequent.”
NWT Tourism declined to comment on Nokleby’s departure but chief executive officer Cathie Bolstad said the body’s relationship with her department was “extremely important, as both an industry advocate and as the marketing organization for the territory.”
“We will continue to work with the department and its minister to ensure the relief, recovery, and rebound of this industry long-term,” Bolstad said.
Thompson, already the lands and environment minister, assumes responsibility for industry with immediate effect. Education, culture, and employment minister RJ Simpson takes over infrastructure.