Caroline Cochrane, Métis politician, social worker, premier of the Northwest Territories (born 5 December 1960 in Flin Flon, MB). Cochrane became the MLA for Range Lake, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT) in 2015. In October 2019, she became the second female premier of the NWT. As of 2019, she is Canada’s only female premier.
Early Life and Education
Caroline Cochrane was born 5 December 1960 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, to George Stanley (“Stan”) and Shirley Jeanette Cochrane (née Rankin). Her Métis mother came from the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement in Alberta. Cochrane had five sisters and two brothers.
In 1963, Cochrane’s family moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, where she grew up. She left home at age 13 and lived on the street for a while before returning to her education.
Cochrane worked in small business and in the finance department of Titan Drilling Ltd., her father’s mineral exploration company. She received a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, British Columbia, in 1999.
Social Work Career
Prior to her political career, Caroline Cochrane had 20 years of experience as a social worker and administrator with agencies that support high-risk families. She worked at the Shuswap Family Resource Centre in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, and was CEO of the Centre for Northern Families, a social service agency administered by the Yellowknife Women’s Society.
Caroline Cochrane was first elected to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly in 2015, representing Range Lake in Yellowknife. She became cabinet minister responsible for four portfolios: NWT Housing Corporation, public works and services, homelessness, and the status of women. In an April 2018 cabinet shuffle, Cochrane was appointed minister of education, culture and employment, but kept her status of women portfolio.
Cochrane was the only serving NWT cabinet minister to keep her seat in the 1 October 2019 territorial election. Nine female MLAs in total were elected to the 19-member assembly, making the NWT legislature the first gender-balanced parliament in Canada. Cochrane became premier on 24 October 2019, defeating other candidates for the position in a secret ballot by members of the new legislature. The NWT has a consensus government, in which the cabinet is chosen by the legislature without reference to political parties.
Premier of NWT
Caroline Cochrane is the territory’s second female premier (after Nellie Cournoyea, 1991–95) and leads Canada’s first female-majority cabinet. As premier, she has called for renewed investment in education at all levels and has worked with MLAs to develop plans for a new polytechnic university in the NWT. “Education is key,” Cochrane says. “It changed my life and opened up all kinds of doors leading to where I am today.”
She has pledged greater consultation with Indigenous governments and has promised to transfer responsibility for Indigenous education, rehabilitation and environmental stewardship from the NWT government to Indigenous people.
To combat climate change, Cochrane wants resource development that’s “as clean as possible.” She has suggested a public forum or plebiscite regarding fracking regulations and supports the implementation of alternative energy, energy retrofits and energy standards.
With her partner Rory, Caroline Cochrane has a blended family of three adult children and one granddaughter.