Glen Abernethy promised Moose FM that, as NWT Premier, he would get the territory talking.
Abernethy, facing incumbent Bob McLeod for the right to lead the territory over the next four years, built Wednesday’s opening speech to fellow MLAs on principles of teamwork and dialogue.
Speaking to us afterward, Abernethy – health minister for the past two years – said his work in government had demonstrated he was “ready, willing and able to do things differently” as the NWT’s next leader.
MLAs will choose between Abernethy and McLeod by secret ballot on Wednesday, December 16.
Read: Glen Abernethy & Bob McLeod make their pitch to be Premier
In full: Text of Glen Abernethy’s speech to MLAs
“I’m not a big fan of the status quo and I’m prepared to work really closely with members, the public and stakeholders to bring about change in this territory,” Abernethy told Moose FM.
“I respect Bob McLeod like no other. He’s an amazing man, he’s done amazing things for the territory. But I’ve also been in the system as well, and I’d like to see changes.”
Where McLeod stressed openness and transparency in his speech, Abernethy’s focus fell on collaboration and engagement.
Summing up his priorities, he told us: “There are operational changes in this building that need to occur in order to improve the relationship between regular members and cabinet – but also the relationship of the entire assembly with the public.
“We had pretty significant voter apathy during the last election – we need to find a way to engage the people far better than we have been. That’s something I’ve tried to do as a regular MLA. That’s something I did as a minister.
“I went to every community, I sat in the meetings and listened to what the people had to say. I need, want, and insist that cabinet do the same: get out and talk to the people, talk about the things you’re working on, and make sure you bring that feedback back.”
Few observers had initially tipped Abernethy to run for the leadership. He says his mind only became set on standing once the election results were in.
“I started hearing from others that I do offer something different – my willingness to sit down and talk to people, get their feedback and find ways to find solutions together. It’s something I’m good at. I’m an accommodator, a facilitator,” said Abernethy.
“I find ways to get things done. We, as a government, need to be more engaged with the people that we’re serving, which means going out and sitting down at an anti-poverty roundtable for three days, going from table to table and talking to people. The amount I learned from those discussions was phenomenal and it helped us move forward with our action plan. Informed decisions.”
Bob McLeod: ‘I am an agent of change for the NWT’
This is the first time MLAs have had a week to consult constituents before casting their vote – a change instituted when newly elected members met to decide on the process last week, in a bid to make the selection of a new Premier slightly more transparent.
Abernethy says “briefings pretty-much every day” will get in the way of much public campaigning during the next week. However, he’ll try to impress upon people why he deserves the job.
“I’m going to be me,” he said. “I’m going to talk to people. I’m going to ask them what they think, answer questions when they ask me questions, and help people understand who I am, what I’ve accomplished and what I can – and will – accomplish.”