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Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson to run for premier

Incumbent R.J. Simpson was the only candidate in Hay River North when nominations closed on Sept. 6 for next month's territorial election. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Incumbent R.J. Simpson was the only candidate in Hay River North when nominations closed on Sept. 6 for next month's territorial election.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Now that he has been acclaimed as the MLA for Hay River North, R.J. Simpson has another election on his mind.

Simpson will seek to be chosen premier of the Northwest Territories when MLAs gather after the Oct. 1 election to select a new cabinet.

"I'm going to put my name forward for premier," he said on Sept. 6, after the nomination period closed for the coming election.

Simpson was first elected to the legislative assembly in 2015.

"You know, the first couple of years, it never crossed my mind," he said of seeking the premiership. "I thought I needed more experience and maybe a stint in cabinet, but as time went on I realized that I didn't become an MLA to sit on the sidelines. And if you want change, sometimes you have to do it yourself."

Simpson noted the decision by current Premier Bob McLeod to not seek re-election did not play a part in his own decision.

"I was going to run, anyhow," Simpson said.

The MLA could not predict his chances of actually getting elected premier.

"You never know who's going to return," he said of the 19 MLAs who will make the decision after the coming election. "It's hard to say without knowing who's going to be there. It's really hard to say."

Simpson explained that everything he has seen over the past four years as an MLA has led to his decision.

"Seeing the changes that I know we can make, but aren't being made," he said. "Seeing the urgency of our economic situation. Seeing the stalling of land claims settlements. All of these things have led me to this decision."

Wally Schumann, a cabinet minister and incumbent MLA for Hay River South, has not ruled out a bid to become premier if he is re-elected to the next Legislative Assembly.

"As I said previously, I've got to get elected locally first in Hay River and, if that's the case and I'm fortunate enough to get re-elected to the 19th Assembly, we'll see who the 19 members are and what their priorities are, and then I'll make that decision at that time," said Schumann, who is being challenged by R.J. Simpson's father, Rocky Simpson.

R.J. Simpson admitted to a sense of relief when he found out that he was acclaimed as one of just three MLAs returning to the Legislative Assembly unopposed.

"I'd like to think that it means that people are happy with the job I've been doing, but I don't want to make any assumptions like that," he said. "And you shouldn't make assumptions like that. You don't want to rest on your laurels."

Simpson noted that leading up to the close of nominations he had not heard any names of other people who might run in Hay River North.

"But I always think back to when I ran," he said, referring to 2015. "It wasn't until a few days before the deadline that I actually made the decision to run. And so I knew that anyone could have come out of the woodwork and put their name in."

With his return to the Legislative Assembly, the 38-year-old said there are still outstanding local issues that have to be dealt with, such as the health-care system, the availability of housing, land for development, dredging of the harbour and the high cost of air travel.

Plus, Simpson said he will also focus on more territorial issues in his second term as MLA.

"When I first ran, I focused a lot on just Hay River issues," he said. "Since I've been in the assembly for four years now, I have a better understanding of what's going on territorially and so I think that I'm also going to focus on the larger territorial issues, like the economy, education, governance, health issues and justice issues."