NWT politicians sit for bizarre four-minute session

MLAs in the NWT legislature on August 25, 2020
MLAs in the NWT legislature on August 25, 2020.

The NWT’s legislature sat for four minutes on Tuesday, as all 19 MLAs were summoned to attend a sitting at which nothing of consequence could be achieved.

MLAs are meeting for four days this week on an emergency basis to consider the removal of Katrina Nokleby, former industry and infrastructure minister, from cabinet.

Premier Caroline Cochrane has already stripped Nokleby of her porfolios, citing concerns about her professionalism and communication, but needs a majority of MLAs to replace her in cabinet.

However, Nokleby on Monday exercised her right to delay the debate about her future until Wednesday.



As her fate is the only reason MLAs have been recalled, that meant Tuesday’s emergency sitting had to take place but without anything for the politicians to actually do.

The MLAs filed in and order was called at 1:34pm. By 1:38pm, the day’s sitting was adjourned.

Though extraordinarily short in nature – most days at the legislature take a minimum of two hours, and sometimes many more – it may not be an all-time record.

On February 19, 1987, the legislature was immediately adjourned following prayer and roll call due to a lack of quorum.



The following day, cabinet member Tagak Curley apologized for the embarrassing adjournment. Curley said many MLAs had been at a lunch that ran late.

Tuesday’s brief performance, which suffered no such lunch-related hindrance, highlights the extent to which longstanding procedural rules define how the more theatrical elements of NWT politics play out.

Removing an MLA from cabinet is one of the more high-stakes, high-drama performances a legislature can host, with speeches of up to 20 minutes expected both from Nokleby and other politicians on Wednesday from 1:30pm.

After that, a vote will take place on her removal from cabinet. Nokleby needs the support of eight MLAs to keep her place, which is thought unlikely but remains possible.

If she is removed, MLAs will then elect a replacement by secret ballot. Convention dictates this will be another Yellowknife MLA. Julie Green, Kevin O’Reilly, and Caitlin Cleveland are thought to be the candidates. Rylund Johnson has ruled himself out.

Deputy minister considers position

Meanwhile, the future of the deputy minister of the Department of Infrastructure is also unclear.

Joe Dragon, the deputy minister, is taking time away from the office as he considers whether to stay on in the post.

Speaking to Cabin Radio on Tuesday, acting deputy minister Steve Loutitt said: “At this point, Joe’s out of the office and I can’t really comment on personnel issues.”



Loutitt said Dragon remained in post officially but, asked if any change was taking place at the top of the department, said: “As per normal practice, the GNWT does not comment on personnel employment matters.”

Cabin Radio understands Nokleby and Dragon had significant disagreements in their short time working together.

Dragon could not be reached for comment. Nokleby, who was originally due to publish a statement on Monday evening, is now expected to make a full statement to the House during Wednesday’s debate regarding her removal.

Loutitt and his staff are in the process of briefing RJ Simpson, Nokleby’s replacement as infrastructure minister, on his new responsibilities.

Simpson has been receiving an introduction to the department’s 22 divisions and 600 staff. “It’s quite a job to bring somebody up to speed on all of that,” said Loutitt, “but the transition to a new minister is a normal part of government.”

Some of the key projects on which Simpson is being briefed are linked to his other portfolio as education minister, such as the demolition of Yellowknife’s École JH Sissons.

Loutitt said he did not expect significant changes to the department’s way of working with a new minister installed.