N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane has announced that Minister Katrina Nokleby has been stripped of her cabinet portfolios: minister of industry, tourism and investment, and minister of infrastructure.
Cochrane made the announcement in a news release Wednesday.
"Last spring, the minister and I made a collective commitment to members of the Legislative Assembly to address concerns that had been raised in relation to the minister's performance," Cochrane said of Nokleby in the statement.
"I have not seen significant progress on these commitments and no longer have confidence in the minister and her ability to fulfil her responsibilities."
Cochrane said, as premier, she has a responsibility to the Legislative Assembly.
"I take this responsibility seriously, and felt it was imperative to take action to ensure that our cabinet remains completely focused on its work on behalf of N.W.T. residents," Cochrane said.
In May, Cochrane had pledged that she had "complete confidence" in Nokleby after fellow MLA Steve Norn attempted to oust her from cabinet by calling a vote of non-confidence. The motion was subsequently dropped.
Nokleby was serving as a first-time cabinet minister and MLA for Great Slave. She was elected in October of last year.
Most MLAs offered no public justification for the motion to remove Nokleby about seven months into her tenure.
Norn said in a statement in May that his non-confidence motion was "due to concerns about the member for Great Slave's performance as a cabinet minister." He subsequently said he was asked by colleagues to put the motion forward, but "through discussions," they later decided to rescind it.
Many publicly supported Nokleby at the time of the motion. The Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines sent an open letter to all MLAs urging them to keep Nokleby on, saying the Legislative Assembly was "all the better for having Minister Nokleby occupying her current portfolios." A petition titled "Save Minister Katrina Nokleby" also garnered at least 1,500 signatures.
As minister of Infrastructure, Nokleby was called out by Tłı̨chǫ leadership earlier this summer for the way the department was handling public tenders for work on Tłı̨chǫ land, since Procurement Shared Services was under that portfolio.
Not long after, Premier Cochrane moved Procurement Shared Services to the Department of Finance, under Minister Caroline Wawzonek. The N.W.T. government then came to an agreement with Tłı̨chǫ businesses to negotiate directly with them for infrastructure projects on Tłı̨chǫ territory.
"Out of respect for the minister, the government of the Northwest Territories will not be commenting further on this matter," the news release Wednesday said.
CBC requested interviews with Nokleby and Cochrane.
In response, a spokesperson for Cochrane said the premier's decisions were addressed in the news release and she will "not be commenting further."
Effective immediately, Cochrane said Minister R.J. Simpson will assume responsibility for Infrastructure, while Minister Shane Thompson will take Industry, Tourism and Investment.
The N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce's executive director, Renée Comeau, told CBC "we have every confidence in Minister Thompson to pick up the ball and run with it."
David Wasylciw, who runs OpenNWT, a website that focuses on making government accountable, said Cochrane's move was a strong one.
"I was pretty surprised," he told CBC. "I mean it's only August and this cabinet was really only put in place in November."
"This move is quite a strong indictment of the premier's evaluation of [Nokleby's] performance."
He said this is the first time a premier has stripped a minister of their portfolios as a result of poor performance, rather than behaviours outside of work.
Wasylciw said it's been clear with cabinet shuffles that the premier was "taking away bits and pieces" from Nokleby.
"So there definitely have been signs of changing levels of responsibility."
He said it's a unique situation in the N.W.T. because Nokleby is still on cabinet. In a consensus government, the premier cannot remove cabinet members. So Nokleby can still attend cabinet meetings, for example, but will not have responsibility over any departments.
Wasylciw said now two big and important portfolios have been put on Thompson and Simpson's plates.
"That's a lot of work left on everybody else," he said.
Premier holding cabinet accountable
Wasylciw pointed out that no MLAs ever made their reasons known for the non-confidence motion earlier this year.
"At this point, you kind of look at it and say well maybe they should have actually explained themselves. Maybe they could have avoided whatever mess this is," he said.
"Because this certainly doesn't reflect great on the whole process."
On the other hand, Wasylciw believes there is a positive to come out of this: the premier is holding cabinet accountable.
"So often people go and say 'well cabinet isn't accountable to anyone'... Well in this case, the premier's come out and said 'You know performance didn't happen the way I thought it should.'
"It's kind of nice to see that."