Here's how N.W.T. MLAs say they'll vote on a public inquiry into last summer's wildfire response

MLAs will vote Thursday on a motion to call a public inquiry into the N.W.T.'s handling of the 2023 wildfires.  (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)
MLAs will vote Thursday on a motion to call a public inquiry into the N.W.T.'s handling of the 2023 wildfires. (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)

N.W.T. MLAs will be debating and voting Thursday on whether to call a public inquiry into the territory's handling of the 2023 wildfires.

That vote was first scheduled to take place on Feb. 9, but was postponed in a narrow 10 to nine vote with Speaker Shane Thompson breaking the tie.

Ahead of Thursday's debate, CBC News reached out to each MLA by email to ask how they planned to vote.

Kieron Testart, MLA for Range Lake, said he will vote in favour of the motion, and the amendments that are being brought forward to include participation from Indigenous governments.

Testart brought forward the motion, along with Dehcho MLA Sheryl Yakeleya. Yakeleya did not respond to CBC's question about Thursday's vote but in a news release about the motion, she says her constituents "have been loudly asking for a transparent and independent process to investigate the wildfires that devastated their homes and communities."

"Many of them are Indigenous Peoples who have called the Northwest Territories home since the earliest times. We owe it to them to be transparent and accountable in how decisions were made during the crisis and give them a voice in the process."

Kate Reid, MLA for Great Slave, said she would support the motion with the further amendments. Reid was one of two regular MLAs, along with Julian Morse, who voted with cabinet earlier this month to postpone the vote.

Morse, MLA for Frame Lake, wouldn't say how he'll vote.

"I wouldn't want to preclude myself from considering any information, particularly engagement from constituents, which might come forward prior to the vote, so will speak to my vote and reasons therefore when the motion comes forward in the house," Morse said.

Shauna Morgan, MLA for Yellowknife North, also said she would wait until the vote to share her perspective.

"As you will hear during the debate on the motion on Thursday, there is more complexity to this issue than being simply for or against a public inquiry. I will explain myself fully on Thursday," she said.

Asked how she ultimately plans to vote, Morgan did not respond. Morgan has previously said she would be in favour of a public inquiry.

Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said he will vote in favour of the motion and said it's important to help restore public trust.

Premier R.J. Simpson, the MLA for Hay River North, has said he does not think a public inquiry is the right choice. He said it will be costly and that the third-party reviews being done for the departments of Municipal and Community Affairs and Environment and Climate Change will be sufficient.

R.J. Simpson speaks at a news conference in Yellowknife, February 2024.
R.J. Simpson speaks at a news conference in Yellowknife, February 2024.

Premier R.J. Simpson has said that he does not support a public inquiry. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada)

Caroline Wawzonek, minister of finance, infrastructure and MLA for Yellowknife South, will be in Montreal for meetings and will not be present for Thursday's vote.

No other minister responded to CBC's question, though cabinet is expected to vote together.

Shane Thompson, Speaker and MLA for Nahendeh, said that the Speaker does not normally vote unless required — as was the case on Feb. 9 when the inquiry vote was postponed.

"I can't say what will be required of my role as Speaker. As well, I do not like to speculate on what is going to happen until it is done," he said.

MLAs George Nerysoo, Denny Rodgers, Richard Edjericon, Jane Weyallon Armstrong and Danny McNeely did not respond to CBC's question.

The motion on whether to call a public inquiry is non-binding and essentially serves as a recommendation to government.

On Tuesday, Yakeleya tabled a petition urging the N.W.T. assembly to "demand a public inquiry into the Hay River-Enterprise-Kakisa wildfire." The petition has over 1,000 signatures from people who feel a public inquiry will help improve emergency preparedness across the territory.