Fourteen MLAs left for Fort Smith on Friday afternoon to attend an annual caucus retreat following an unexpected emergency session over former minister Katrina Nokleby this past week.
In an email to Cabin Radio, legislative assembly spokesperson Katie Weaver said Katrina Nokleby, Rocky Simpson, Lesa Semmler, Jackson Lafferty, and Jackie Jacobson would not be attending the three-day retreat, although some of them told the CBC they may attend by phone.
Weaver said caucus meetings are confidential and was unable to share an agenda, but the legislature’s website notes MLAs will meet with leaders from the Salt River Nation, Northwest Territory Métis First Nation, and the Town of Fort Smith during their time in the Thebacha riding.
Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North and caucus chair, told Cabin Radio the MLAs will tour a fire centre, discuss the territory’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls action plan, review consensus government, discuss the NWT’s Covid-19 response, and begin discussing the terms of reference for an electoral boundaries committee.
“Caucus is all about taking off your minister hat and focusing on the future of the NWT,” he said.
Who is skipping the retreat?
On Friday afternoon, the CBC reported Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, and Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, may attend some or all of the retreat via teleconference. The retreat runs from Saturday to Monday.
In a Facebook post, Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave, wrote she would be going to British Columbia instead to take care of her mother’s estate.
“Since the passing of my mom I have not had a chance to … properly grieve,” Nokleby wrote to her constituents.
Johnson told the CBC other missing MLAs would not be present for personal reasons.
Attendance encouraged, but not mandatory
While all members are encouraged to attend the retreat, Weaver said, it is not mandatory.
In 2018 two members missed the retreat, in 2017 three were absent, and in 2016 two did not attend.
In a news release shared on the assembly’s website, Johnson said the past week’s events have shown the retreat is important and will give members time to reconnect as a group.
“The events of this past week have been extremely difficult for everyone and some relationship building needs to be done to bring us back together,” he is quoted as saying.
“It is clear we have lots of work to do for the territory and amongst ourselves as MLAs. I am hopeful we can come out this retreat reminded that there is a lot of work to do and no more time to waste.”
Retreat replaces ‘the travelling assembly’
The caucus retreat was created as a way for MLAs to visit various communities in the NWT after the Legislative Assembly began hosting session permanently in Yellowknife.
The assembly used to hold session in different communities across the NWT, called “the travelling assembly,” prior to the legislature building opening in 1993.
“This allowed members to feel connected to people from all regions and see from their point of view during debates,” said Weaver.
“Once session started regularly occurring here in Yellowknife, it was deemed important that members continue to get this opportunity, and shortly thereafter, a yearly caucus retreat became the status quo.”