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With Roland's departure, candidates begin lining up for NWT's top job

Former Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland listens to a question during a news conference in this 2010 file photo.


At least three newly elected MLAs will lobby for the top job in the Northwest Territories, which filled its 19-seat legislature Monday in a general election that saw low voter turnout and few fresh faces.

Veteran politician and Deputy Premier Michael Miltenberger, cabinet minister Bob McLeod, who won a second term in Yellowknife South by acclamation, and Norman Yakeleya, a third-term MLA from Sahtu, have all indicated they would like to be the Territories' next Premier.

And the campaigning for the position to run the sprawling 1.17-million-square-kilometre territory – with a budget of almost $1.4-billion (the vast majority of funding flowing from Ottawa) and is home to 43,675 people – began almost immediately.

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Floyd Roland, who endured a tumultuous tenure, including surviving a no-confidence motion, did not seek re-election.

"We have such big issues for a small population," said Mr. Yakeleya, who wants to bring Mounties to communities with no RCMP detachments, nurses to places that have none and eliminate overcrowded housing.

In a process unfamiliar to many in the south, the Yellowknife-based government has no political parties and operates under a consensus system, which allows those elected to select by secret ballot the premier, speaker and six cabinet ministers.

The process irks some, but the system is designed to reflect the way aboriginal people traditionally govern.

Selections for leadership of the 17th legislative assembly will take place the week of Oct. 24.

The past two premiers have not been directly elected by the public. In 2003, Joe Handley ran unopposed to take his seat, and then was elected premier by the legislature. Mr. Roland followed the same path in 2007.

Mr. McLeod, one of three candidates who won by acclamation, is focused on the economy, infrastructure projects and controlling the high cost of living.

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"The way I look at it is, nobody ran against me because I'm doing such a great job," he said to deflect concerns, "I don't think I should be penalized because nobody ran against me."

Voter turnout fell to around 42 per cent on Monday, with just 11,760 ballots cast for the 47 candidates who ran as independents.

Mr. Yakeleya retained his seat by 136 votes, but his last term in office was dogged by controversy.

In 2010, he was found not guilty of sexual assault in connection with allegations from a teenage girl that dated back to 2007.

Mr. Yakeleya said it shouldn't affect his candidacy: "Case closed," he said.

Getting a deal with Ottawa that would put the territory on a more equal footing with the provinces – also known as devolution – is high on the agenda of the would-be premiers, as is more resource-revenue sharing.

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Mr. Miltenberger, who is concerned about balancing the economy with the environment, said he hopes the final phase of a devolution agreement would be implemented within the next four years.

"It's time to finish the job," he said, "We've been on this for decades."

The real shock of the election came when former transportation minister Michael McLeod (Bob McLeod's brother) became the only incumbent to fall. He lost the seat to former Dehcho First Nations grand chief Michael Nadli, who is rumoured also to be interested in making a bid for the premiership.

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Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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