YELLOWKNIFE — The Northwest Territories has its first two-term premier.
Incumbent Bob McLeod will return to the job after winning a majority vote in the territorial legislature Wednesday under the rules of the territory’s consensus government.
“It makes me feel really good,” said McLeod, 63, settling back into the chair in his legislature office.
“It took a lot of soul-searching, because I recognized that none of the premiers before had even bothered to seek a second term.”
Premiers in the Northwest Territories are chosen after general elections by members of the legislature. Most of the 19 legislature members who won seats Nov. 23 are rookies, which had led to some speculation that there might be a mood for a change in premier.
But McLeod — a longtime veteran of northern government — was successful over challenger Glen Abernethy.
The straight-talking, good-humoured McLeod was a bureaucrat in both the federal and territorial governments before he was first elected in 2007. He spent time in cabinet before becoming premier in 2011.
Now he’s got another four years in a tough job. The territory’s resource-driven economy is stagnant, population growth is sluggish and demands for social spending and infrastructure are rising.
McLeod said his first task, after touching base with northern aboriginal governments and other territorial stakeholders, will be to head to Ottawa to talk to the new Liberal administration.
“We need to meet the new government and some of its principals and set out a plan for accessing a lot of the promises that were identified to us during the election,” McLeod said.
During the federal campaign, Justin Trudeau answered a letter from McLeod on what the Liberals could do for the North.
“The Northwest Territories has huge potential for growth, but it needs a real partner who will invest in its people, infrastructure, and research, in order to ensure that this growth is realized,” Trudeau wrote.
On Wednesday, Trudeau issued a statement congratulating McLeod and saying the people of the North “are our country’s best guarantee of Canadian sovereignty.”
He said he looks forward to working with McLeod “in a spirit of openness and collaboration to address the unique challenges and opportunities of the Northwest Territories.”
Trudeau cited his government’s priorities as addressing the high cost of living, improving health services, ensuring affordable housing, investing in climate change preparedness, and discussing additional means to support economic development, including through investment in infrastructure.
McLeod is likely to be looking for solid commitments on long-desired northern projects such as social housing and a highway up the Mackenzie Valley.
A $1.7-billion all-weather road between Yellowknife and Inuvik near the Beaufort coast would open up a vast swath of tundra now accessible only by ice road or air. It would also dramatically reduce costs for residents and resource companies.
The territory also wants a road into the mineral-rich tundra north of Yellowknife.
Environmental assessments are also likely to be on the table. Several aboriginal governments have active lawsuits opposing changes made under the Harper Conservatives and Trudeau has promised to revisit them.
While the N.W.T.’s most recent budget projects another small surplus of $147 million, that’s expected to be about as good as it gets for the next while. Revenues are forecast to grow by less than half a per cent in total by 2019. Even with tight spending controls, expenditures will have grown by more than eight per cent by then.
MLAs were also choosing Wednesday who would be in cabinet, although assigning of portfolios rests with the premier.
On Thursday, all MLAs are to table a statement of priorities the cabinet will use to draft a mandate, which will form the basis for a throne speech in February.