Four candidates will run in the Monfwi byelection, chief electoral officer Nicole Latour said on July 2.
Jane Weyallon Armstrong, Kelvin Kotchilea, John Gon and James Wah-shee have been approved as candidates by Elections NWT.
The campaign will last for most of July until the poll is held in Behchoko, Edzo, Gameti, Wekweeti and Whati on July 27.
Latour issued the writ to Harriet Koyina, the Monfwi returning officer, starting the 29-day nomination and campaign period to elect an MLA for that district following the resignation on June 4 of long-serving Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty. Lafferty plans to run in the election for grand chief of the Tlicho Government.
The people’s voice
Weyallon, whose name will officially appear on the ballot as Armstrong has been the president of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT for the last six years, and on June 14 she was re-elected to her third four-year term as councillor in the Behchoko community government.
“I’m not running (in the byelection) for fame or money,” she said in a phone interview. “I know what’s going on in my community and in the territory. I know how the GNWT operates. If we want to make progress and move forward, it’s good for MLAs to work closely with Indigenous governments,” she said.
Born and raised in Behchoko, Weyallon started her career in the 1980s working for the GNWT’s Department of Justice before receiving diplomas from Mount Royal College’s child and youth care worker program and from the social work program at Aurora College in Fort Smith. She also completed a bachelor degree in political science at the University of Saskatchewan.
She served as an assembly member of the Tlicho Government for one term — from 2009 to 2013 — and has spent almost 30 years working for the GNWT in various roles, including as a guidance counsellor for students in Tlicho communities.
“I worry about the social issues in our communities, the addictions issues. I see them here in Behchoko. Young people are moving away because there are too many social problems,” she said. “I want to make more programs for young people and give them hope. And there are problems with domestic violence, especially now with the pandemic, we’ve been warned about higher levels of domestic violence.
“I’m going to be the people’s voice. People know who I am and I like working with people. I’m committed to my community.”
‘Being true to needs of communities’
Kotchilea, from Behchoko worked with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) for eight years as a renewable resource officer and currently works as a finance officer with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.
He completed a diploma at Aurora College’s environment and natural resource technology program in 2010, and in June graduated from the school’s business administration program.
Kotchilea was well into his five-year plan of completing a major in accounting and moving into a senior management position in government when someone suggested that he run for the Monfwi seat.
“‘Imagine being an MLA, we need someone with a plan and a vision. Imagine how much good you could do for your people with your set of skills,’ the person said. That sparked my interest,” Kotchilea said.
“I had leadership roles growing up and working with ENR and being part of the fire program. Those were amplified when I did the business administration program because you learn about leadership and the ethics of accounting.”
If elected as MLA, Kotchilea wants to address housing, employment and education and better way of supporting communities with substance abuse issues.
“When we talk about education and employment, you need to have qualified people to get high-paying positions in the communities. That’s why I want to advocate to high school students that they should get more diverse skills. Once they have them it would be my responsibility to help bring more jobs to the communities.”
He also aims to create a second Monfwi seat to give representation to the communities of Whati, Gameti and Wekweeti.
“Monfwi MLAs and the (Tlicho Government) grand chief have always been from Behchoko,” he said. “The three other communities are isolated. It’s hard for anyone to say ‘I know what they want’ if they live in Behchoko. People in those communities want to get involved in politics but it’s harder when Behchoko is the largest. In order to give support and provide programs and services we need that true representation. We need to be true to their wants and needs.”
‘Something must be done about homelessness’
John Gon, also from Behchoko has worked in broadcast journalism since the 1980s. He worked for CBC and CKLB from the late 1980s until the early 1990s, before receiving journalism degrees from Capilano University in Vancouver and from Humber College in Ontario in 1999 to 2003.
He has been running his own media company First North Productions since 2005 and provides video and online services to government clients, mainly the Tlicho Government.
Gon said he has been thinking of running for Monfwi MLA for a few years but didn’t join the race in 2019 when Jackson Lafferty won the seat unopposed.
“I didn’t want to run against someone I respect,” he said.
If he wins the byelection, his first priority will be addressing homelessness and housing in the Tlicho region.
“When I was growing up in Behchoko there was barely any homelessness,” he said. “Today there are more than 200 people out there. It really saddens me to see that. Something has to be done. There have been meetings after meetings, people have been talking about it and this issue is getting worse. Housing has to be addressed.”
He would also work to reduce the cost of living in Gameti, Whati and Wekweeti; improve cellular service on Highway 3 and address the contract tender process, which he said overlooks Tlicho companies.
“They should be able to get the first crack at local contracts. The money should stay in the community,” he said.
While Gon acknowledges he has little political experience on his resume, he said he would bring charisma, leadership and initiative to the MLA role.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush. I see a problem – I want to tackle it. No more talking. Get rid of (unhelpful) policies. Take out the garbage. Let’s get things done.”
Attempts to contact Wah-shee, a former MLA and a negotiator of the Tlicho land claim were unsuccessful.
Registering to vote
The office of the Returning Officer is now open in the Friendship Centre in Behchoko where electors can register to vote or update their voter registration.
Electors can also cast a ballot before July 27 at the office of the Returning Officer in Behchoko, during office hours from July 5 until July 24. Any registered elector from the five Monfwi communities can vote in the office of the returning officer.
Gameti, Wekweeti and Whati will also have an early voting opportunity as advance polls will be held in each community on July 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Electors who are away on polling day or unable to attend one of the early voting opportunities may also apply for a mail-in absentee ballot. Electors must apply for that ballot.
Applications for the ballot will be available until July 17 at 2 p.m. and can be accessed on the Elections NWT portal.
Electors can contact the Returning Officer at (867) 446-6121 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other inquiries can be sent to email@example.com or by calling (867) 669-1212.