The second-most sparsely populated jurisdiction in the country, with some of the most complicated politics, has elected its second female premier since Nellie Cournoyea made Canadian history back in 1991, as the first female premier to govern any province or territory.
Caroline Cochrane, former cabinet minister in outgoing Premier Robert McLeod’s government, was elected on Thursday after three rounds of secret ballot by 19 MLA-elects.
These MLAs were winners in the general election held more than three weeks ago on October 1st, chosen by the territory’s voting-age residents among 44,826 people in 33 communities, scattered across 1.3 million square km.
Like Nunavut, Northwest Territories operates a consensus style government without political parties.
After the vote, MLA-elects caucus and choose a leader by secret ballot, followed by a cabinet of six – those not selected in this process then sit as opposition to premier and cabinet.
Cochrane was not immediately available for comment, but in a speech following her election said her policy is “to always have an open door”.
In a wide-ranging interview with Yellowknife’s Cabin Radio before the election, Cochrane spoke of “diversifying” an economy underpinned by government and abundant natural resources, development of which is prone to boom-and-bust commodities cycles.
The territory is also over-layed with multiple self-governing Indigenous authorities – some nascent, others more mature and still others locked in treaty negotiations with Ottawa.
A process to devolve management of land, resources and royalty rights from Ottawa, to the territorial government and Indigenous groups remains ongoing, but received more certainty in 2014 with Royal Assent of Bill C-15, or the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement.
During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s previous government, then-Premier McLeod butted heads with Ottawa over resource management in the NWT after the PM unilaterally closed offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea in 2016.
In a statement issued following NWT’s selection for premier, Trudeau thanked McLeod for his service and congratulated Cochrane “on being chosen by her peers to lead the Government of the Northwest Territories.”
“I look forward to working closely with Premier Cochrane and the Government of the Northwest Territories to address the needs and priorities of Northerners,” said Trudeau.