Premier Caroline Cochrane late on Friday used a little-known government Facebook page to say fired minister Katrina Nokleby lacked professionalism and had to be relieved of her duties.
In a video message broadcast to a page with just over 500 followers, Cochrane spent five minutes explaining the decision but ultimately divulged little, if anything, about what had actually taken place.
The premier said concerns with Nokleby’s performance as industry and infrastructure minister related to “professionalism, responsiveness to requests from MLAs, willingness to work with standing committees, and openness to hearing the views and perspectives of MLAs and ministers.”
The premier has refused to conduct interviews about her sacking of Nokleby. Nokleby has declined to comment.
The reason behind the timing of the decision is not clear.
An emergency session at the legislature will begin on Monday with a view to a vote being held on Nokleby’s position in cabinet. While the premier can remove Nokleby’s portfolios, only a majority of MLAs can oust her from cabinet and elect a replacement by secret ballot.
Cochrane said she could not share any detail about her concerns as “I respect conversations held in confidence … and am reluctant to share too many details that have been raised by our colleagues, because what’s important now is re-establishing positive working relationships and finding the best path forward.”
Cochrane said Nokleby had “told us we would see improvements [but] unfortunately, there was little to no progress.”
The premier insisted she valued “diversity of opinion in her cabinet and did not “make any decision lightly.”
MLAs say move is surprise
Earlier on Friday, Yellowknife MLAs Rylund Johnson and Caitlin Cleveland, publicly expressed confusion about Nokleby’s removal.
Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, posted on Facebook that the decision to strip Nokleby’s portfolios was a surprise to him. Writing prior to the premier’s video being posted, he said the public deserved a full answer from Cochrane about why the call was made.
Both Johnson and Cleveland, who also shared a statement on Facebook, said they only found out about Nokleby being stripped of her portfolios one hour before Cochrane’s Wednesday announcement was distributed.
Johnson said Cochrane had “bypassed the accountability mechanism of regular members to remove a minister.”
“She needs to own it and take full accountability for her decision to strip a minister of their portfolios,” he wrote.
“It is not my responsibility to explain my colleagues’ actions or their reasons. Nor do I suspect I will ever fully know what occurred behind the closed doors of the cabinet side.”
Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake, said she was disappointed by the situation MLAs now finds themselves in following the ousting of Nokleby.
“I always had a positive working relationship with Minister Nokleby and am frustrated that I do not have a full picture of what is going on to be able to answer the questions of my constituents,” Cleveland said.
“We have a ton of work to do and we must find a way to move forward. Cabinet cannot function efficiently without all ministers able to contribute to the mandate of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
“We do not have time to waste. We are in the middle of a pandemic. And we have each made commitments to the people of the Northwest Territories.”
A file photo of Caitlin Cleveland in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Convention dictates that if Nokleby is removed from cabinet, her replacement would be another Yellowknife MLA: one of Johnson, Cleveland, Julie Green, or Kevin O’Reilly.
Johnson stated on Friday he will not run for cabinet, saying he can “best serve his constituents as a regular MLA.”
Cleveland did not address whether she would be a candidate in that scenario.
O’Reilly, reached by phone on Friday, said he had no comment about Nokleby’s removal or whether he would seek to join cabinet.
Green shared Johnson’s post on Facebook, saying it “describes the current situation well,” but did not otherwise add to it.
Johnson and Cleveland were the first MLAs to provide public statements of any substance on the issue.
It’s not clear whether Johnson and Cleveland will oppose removing Nokleby when MLAs reconvene next week. Both opposed her removal when other regular MLAs tried to replace her in May.
Sarah Sibley, Sarah Pruys, and Meaghan Brackenbury contributed reporting.