Northwest Territories voters summarily dispatched more than half of their MLAs as shock election results rolled in on Monday.
Across the territory, only eight of the 19 incumbents will be returning to the legislature if unofficial results remain unchanged.
Michael Miltenberger may have been the night’s biggest victim, blaming low voter turnout and a split vote as he lost his Thebacha riding after 20 years. Louis Sebert, a Fort Smith lawyer, shocked the finance minister by 401 votes to 363.
Jane Groenewegen, too, left the legislature after two decades – defeated by Wally Schumann in Hay River South. Hay River’s other incumbent MLA, Robert Bouchard, was turfed after one term in favour of RJ Simpson.
Three well-known politicians lost their seats in Yellowknife, among them Dave Ramsay, the former justice and industry minister. Ramsay lost Kam Lake by 78 votes to Kieron Testart, once a contender for the federal Liberal nomination.
“It’s a shock,” Ramsay admitted to Moose FM. “I wasn’t expecting this at all.”
Ramsay, in keeping with some other defeated candidates, partly blamed the wave of political change on which a Liberal government rode into Ottawa last month.
Elsewhere in Yellowknife, Daryl Dolynny – the Range Lake MLA who set himself up as a government ‘watchdog’ over the past four years – was narrowly ousted by Caroline Cochrane-Johnson, in a race expected to be subject to a recount after the latter won by 10 votes.
If confirmed, that result would make Cochrane-Johnson – formerly chief executive of the Centre for Northern Families – one of two female MLAs in the new legislature, alongside Julie Green.
Former broadcaster Green defeated Robert Hawkins by 91 votes, bringing to an end Hawkins’ 12-year tenure as Yellowknife Centre MLA.
Green said the campaign had been ‘aggressive’, claiming that voters had demanded change after a dozen years without progress.
Kevin O’Reilly and Cory Vanthuyne are expected to be confirmed as the MLAs for the vacant ridings of Frame Lake and Yellowknife North respectively. In Yellowknife South, Bob McLeod comfortably beat young challengers Nigit’stil Norbert and Sam Roland, then declared he would ‘test the water’ when it came to standing for a second term as premier.
Five members of cabinet will be returning to the legislature: McLeod, the acclaimed education minister Jackson Lafferty, health minister Glen Abernethy (an easy victor over Chris Clarke in Great Slave), transportation minister Tom Beaulieu (Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh) and municipal affairs minister Robert C McLeod (Inuvik Twin Lakes).
But the absences of Ramsay and, particularly, Miltenberger will leave several key government portfolios bereft of many years’ experience. With Miltenberger’s departure after seven years as finance minister, and as a Liberal government promises expenditure on infrastructure, the path may open up for the territory to embark on a different fiscal course.
“There’s lots of work ahead,” O’Reilly told Moose FM. “But there’s a feeling of change in the air – hope and expectation of bigger and better things for the Northwest Territories.”
Not all felt that way. The re-election of Michael Nadli as Deh Cho MLA, despite having assaulted his wife and spent time in jail earlier this year, was roundly derided by NWT residents reacting to Monday’s results online.
Meanwhile, there remain only two female MLAs in the legislature – unchanged on the previous four years.
Your new legislature in full
Unofficial results as of 12:30am, Tuesday, November 24. Subject to change.
* = re-elected
Deh Cho: Michael Nadli*
Frame Lake: Kevin O’Reilly
Great Slave: Glen Abernethy*
Hay River North: RJ Simpson
Hay River South: Wally Schumann
Inuvik Boot Lake: Alfred Moses*
Inuvik Twin Lakes: Robert C McLeod*
Kam Lake: Kieron Testart
Mackenzie Delta: Frederick Blake Jr*
Monfwi: Jackson Lafferty*
Nahendeh: Shane Thompson
Nunakput: Herbert Nakimayak
Range Lake: Caroline Cochrane-Johnson
Sahtu: Daniel McNeely
Thebacha: Louis Sebert
Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh: Tom Beaulieu*
Yellowknife Centre: Julie Green
Yellowknife North: Cory Vanthuyne
Yellowknife South: Bob McLeod*