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New Premier elected in the Northwest Territories

December 7, 2023

Hay River’s RJ Simpson will be the new Northwest Territories premier 

APTN News: It is a big day in politics North of 60.

Newly elected members of the Northwest Territories legislature have chosen their next premier.

R.J. Simpson, who is Métis, is the legislature member for Hay River North, won on the second round of voting. Simpson was first elected to the legislature in 2015. He previously held the education, culture, employment and justice portfolios.

Simpson described his win as a “bit of a shock” but also “exciting”. “I think we have a really good crew and we made a lot of progress in the last government working with Indigenous government and I really think that is the future of the territory, building those relationships so we can really build up the territory and the regions,” said Simpson.

He said his focus is going to be on a new era of governing.

“We have to be willing to go to Ottawa with Indigenous governments shoulder to shoulder, I think that is a way to bring more money into the territory and there’s been a lot of desire from Indigenous governments to do that as well,” said Simpson.

new northwest territories premier elected
19 MLAs vote in a secret ballot to elect the new premier of the Northwest Territories. Photo: Charlotte Jacobs

He previously worked with the federal government, Northern Transportation Co. Ltd., Metis Nation Local 51 and Maskwa Engineering.

It is the first time since 2011 that a premier has been elected from outside of Yellowknife, NWT.

“Over the past eight years I have really learned the value of working with people and that’s really the only way to get things done with the consensus system and in the territory where we have multiple governments all across the territory with multiple capacities. Collaboration is going to be the hallmark of it, we are no longer in an era where the GNWT thinks it’s the boss in doing everything,” he said.

The territory has a consensus-style government where members run as independents and choose a premier and members of cabinet from among themselves. The MLAs vote by secret ballot.

Former premier Caroline Cochrane announced in September that she wasn’t running for re-election.

Cochrane has advice for the next Premier. “The most effective leader in my opinion is those who will take the opinions of those all around especially on tough decision and try to find a solution that will be acceptable for all members instead of it has to be my way. Never leave the table, you will have problems as the premier there will be relationships that break up, people will be angry with you for a day or two but never leave the table,” she said.

Shane Thompson, MLA for Nahandeh was in the running for premier but withdrew at the last minute—opting instead to put his name forward for speaker.

The MLAs will vote for cabinet ministers this afternoon. Two from the Northern districts. Two from the Southern districts, and two from Yellowknife.

The Premier will then hand out portfolios at a later date.

With files from the Canadian Press


Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs,