Antoine new premier
Defeats Kakfwi on first ballot

Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 11/98) - You can now call him Mr. Premier.

Nahendeh MLA Jim Antoine was elected NWT premier yesterday and appeared shy whenever addressed by his new title in the minutes following the vote and grinned broadly whenever it occurred.

He was elected by territorial MLAs after only one ballot, defeating Sahtu MLA Stephen Kakfwi. Voting results are kept secret.

The rookie premier said improving the public's perception of the government in light of the events leading up to and including Conflict of Interest Commissioner Anne Crawford's damning report on former premier Don Morin's actions is his number one priority.

Antoine, however, doesn't think much has to be changed in light of Crawford's report.

"I don't think there's a problem with how the government does its business," he said. "That (Crawford's findings) is not indicative of the total picture...We have to look at the policies and guidelines and maybe tighten them up."

Born and raised in the Deh Cho, he also said matters of conflict of interest are sometimes handled differently across the North.

"Coming from the smaller communities into this kind of arena, you take it (ethical behaviour) for granted, you use common sense," he said. "But, now, it seems you have to get technical about it and you need to know about what it really means."

This, he pledged to do.

"The message here is we've dealt with the problems...(Morin) did the right thing and resigned. We went through the process of accepting the report."

As for Kakfwi, he said the defeat in no way marks the beginning of the end of his political career.

"I haven't lost my passion for this kind of work," said Kakfwi, adding he will be running again for a seat in the assembly during next year's election.

He also praised Antoine and said the new premier would have his full support.

MLAs also elected a new minister to the cabinet. It took five ballots before Inuvik's Floyd Roland got the nod late in the afternoon.

"Ensuring the transition phase (toward two new territories) continues to be a smooth process as well as starting to focus on the issue of economic development," he said when asked what priorities he thought the cabinet should focus on in the coming months.

Roland is scheduled to be sworn in by commissioner Helen Maksagak at 3:00 p.m. today.

He beat out MLAs Roy Erasmus, Seamus Henry, Jake Ootes, Michael Miltenberger and Vince Steen who were also in the running. Though nominated, Hay River's Jane Groenewegen declined the chance to allow her name to stand for cabinet.

As for the new premier, he was quickly ushered into briefings by senior GNWT bureaucrats. Antoine said announcements about who will serve in what cabinet portfolios will soon be forthcoming. He also said he is still considering who will serve as his principal secretary.

A MLA since 1991, Antoine has sat in cabinet since 1995. Before that, he served three-terms as chief of the Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Thursday evening the prime minister would be phoning the new premier in the very near future.