Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson says he was pleased to have been named minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) when the new territorial cabinet was announced last week.

“I gave a few options to the premier and it was one of my preferred options,” Simpson told The Hub. “I have a passion for education and I see the potential. So I was happy to get this portfolio.”

Simpson added he is also happy to finally start getting to work.

NWT Commissioner Margaret Thom, left, congratulates Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson after he was sworn into the new territorial cabinet on Oct. 25 in Yellowknife. On Nov. 5, Simpson was named the minister of Education, Culture and Employment; the minister responsible for the Public Utilities Board; and Government House Leader.
Brett McGarry/NNSL photo

“It’s been a long election period and a lot of orientation and reorientation,” he said.

Premier Caroline Cochrane announced the cabinet portfolios on Nov. 5 and the appointments took effect on Nov. 8.

Simpson was also named Government House Leader and given responsibility for the Public Utilities Board.

The MLA said there are many issues he will have to deal with as minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

“As the minister, you have to look at the priorities of the assembly and so our priorities talk about improving early childhood development indicators; increasing the access to and the affordability of childcare; increasing student education outcomes, so that’s things like graduation rates; and, of course, a polytechnic university,” he said. “And things like employment in small communities, too, we need to address. So there’s going to be those focuses, but it doesn’t mean I can’t also focus on a lot of the other outstanding issues that we have. Education, Culture and Employment is a massive department.”

Speaking on Nov. 8, Simpson noted briefings had already begun for the new ministers to get them up to speed on their portfolios.

“I’m one of the lucky ministers, I think, because I’ve been a regular member for four years,” he said. “So I’ve already had countless hours of departmental briefings. So I know what ECE does. Now it’s a matter of getting right down into the weeds, if you will.”

Simpson noted it’s the premier’s prerogative on who gets which portfolio.

“I’ve spoken countless times about the value of education and my appreciation for education. Perhaps that played into it,” he said. “I mean, I stood up in the house I don’t know how many times and said education is freedom and talked about my desire to give everyone in the territory the same opportunities I had.”

ECE also has a new deputy minister after changes to the senior management of the territorial public service announced by Cochrane on Nov. 7.

The new deputy minister is Rita Mueller.

“I think she’s going to be a big help to me,” said Simpson. “She’s an educator. She has experience around the territory. She’s been in the department and we can really hit the ground running. I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

The other portfolio assignments in the new cabinet are:

  • Sahtu MLA Paulie Chinna – minister of Municipal and Community Affairs; minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation; minister responsible for Homelessness:
  • Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby – minister of Infrastructure; minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment; minister responsible for the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission;
  • Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Diane Thom – Deputy Premier; minister of Health and Social Services; minister responsible for the Status of Women; Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities;
  • Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson – minister of Environment and Natural Resources; minister of Lands; minister responsible for Youth; minister responsible for Seniors; minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation; and
  • Yellowknife South MLA Caroline Wawzonek – minister of Finance; minister of Justice.

Along with being premier, Cochrane, the MLA for Range Lake, will be the minister of Executive and Indigenous Affairs.

“The results of the recent territorial election demonstrated that Northwest Territories have an appetite for change and I am pleased to welcome a new cabinet that includes – for the first time in Canada and the Northwest Territories – a majority of women cabinet ministers,” the new premier stated in a news release. “We are all looking forward to working together to deliver the change that NWT voters demanded with a progressive and balanced agenda on behalf of all residents of this territory.”

Cochrane is the only member of the new cabinet with any previous experience as a minister. She was the minister of Education, Culture and Employment for the final two years of the previous government.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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