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Glen Abernethy & Bob McLeod make their pitch to be Premier

Either Glen Abernethy or Bob McLeod will become the next Premier of the Northwest Territories.

The two Yellowknife MLAs were the only candidates as the leadership process began with public speeches inside the legislature on Wednesday.

Abernethy, the MLA for Great Slave, has served as the NWT’s health minister for the past two years. McLeod was re-elected as the member for Yellowknife South having just spent four years as the Premier.

Both candidates were given 20 minutes to persuade MLAs in public, though many private discussions are sure to follow. In a change to past procedure, MLAs will now have a week to consult constituents before returning for a decisive secret ballot next Wednesday.

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‘Inclusive and transparent’

“This election has clearly demonstrated that northerners no longer accept the status quo,” Abernethy told fellow MLAs. “We can and we must do things differently.”

In the course of outlining his priorities – the cost of living, government operating costs and regulatory uncertainty among them – Abernethy consistently emphasized he would offer a collaborative approach.

“The only way we, as politicians, can truly help to build a strong territory is by working together – with each other, with Aboriginal governments, with stakeholders and with residents,” he said.

Full text: Read Glen Abernethy’s speech

“We must be inclusive and transparent in our approach, open to new ways of doing business. We have to help build bridges rather than create barriers.

“If elected as Premier, I commit to being part of the team that is the 18th Assembly. This is easier said than done. Anybody can say they’ll work together. The trick is actually doing it. I believe I’ve already demonstrated that this is how I do business.”

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Abernethy went on to demand “bold measures” in education over the next four years, before touching on calls for government accountability by suggesting “transparency and openness will be a requirement”. As an example, he said mandate letters to individuals should be made public to allow greater evaluation of their work.

‘Taking care of each other’

McLeod, in his speech, acknowledged the “message of change” sent by northern voters in November’s election. In return, he promised a raft of measures to open up the territory’s government.

“I propose to name a minister responsible for transparency and democratic engagement,” said McLeod. “That minister would be tasked with taking the lead on open government policy.

“I propose that cabinet hold at least one meeting in each region, complemented by a public meeting with residents, in its first year … so more people can meet the leaders they elected and give cabinet the opportunity to take the pulse on what matters to them.”

Full text: Read Bob McLeod’s speech

Among his priorities, McLeod said “taking care of each other, looking after our families and neighbours” would form a cornerstone of his approach.

“We need to make sure that nobody in our territory gets left behind,” he said.

“Critical infrastructure investments … are the key to reducing our cost of living,” added McLeod, setting out his own priorities. He also promised work to “convince the Government of Canada to increase the Northern Residents Tax Deduction not just once, but annually”.

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McLeod also devoted time to outlining his record in Aboriginal affairs, urging the formation of a new joint committee on land claims.

“The number one priority is fulfilling the expectations of our people,” he concluded. “Our residents want a government that works as hard as they do; one that is focused every day on supporting the economy, creating jobs; one that helps those that need a hand up; and one that helps prepare our young people for future success.

“My message today is built on my experience and the success of past efforts. However, it is not about the past – it is about the present and the future.”

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