December 8, 2000

Rebecca Williams wins a squeaker in Quttiktuq

David Roberts finishes second, Levi Barnabas winds up third

AARON SPITZER
Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — By a narrow margin, voters in the High Arctic have made Rebecca Oqqie Williams Nunavut’s newest MLA.

In a tight eight-way race, Williams edged out runner-up David Roberts by eight votes to win Monday’s Quttiktuq by-election.

According to the unofficial tally, Williams took 88 of the 422 votes cast, while Roberts captured 80.

Because the margin was less than 2 per cent of the total votes cast, the ballots will be recounted in front of a judge before the election outcome is declared official.

If the current count stands, Williams will join the Nunavut legislative assembly in early 2001 as the representative for the High Arctic communities of Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord, Nanisivik and Resolute Bay.

Speaking from Arctic Bay following the election, Williams said she was excited when her victory was announced. "But now the real work starts," she said. "The fun part is over, I think."

Williams said voters’ desire for sober, responsible leadership may have given her the edge in the election.

"My strong point was that I don’t drink, and I think they believe they can rely on me," she said. "A lot of people talked about how they want somebody who can behave properly... I feel that I fulfil that."

The Quttiktuq by-election was called to fill the position of former MLA Levi Barnabas, who was forced to step down in August after being convicted of sexual assault.

Barnabas also ran in the by-election, but was rebuffed in his effort to regain his old seat, coming in third with only 73 votes, according to the unofficial vote count.

Fourth in the race went to Natsiq Kango, with 60 votes. Next came Joanasie Akumalik, 59 votes; Tommy Enuaraq, 22 votes; Tommy Tatatuapik, also with 22 votes; and Leah Kalluk, 15 votes.

Williams, an Iqaluit resident originally from Arctic Bay, has held a range of positions in Nunavut. She was the first chair of the Nunavut Social Development Council, and also served as an assistant deputy minister in the justice department. She was also the deputy mayor of Arctic Bay.

After being sworn in in January, Williams said she’ll devote herself to opening up communication between the Nunavut government and the far-flung communities of the High Arctic.

She said she’ll also work hard to deliver economic help to the struggling region, which has received few government jobs under the GN’s decentralization scheme.

But Williams also wants to help the Quttiktuq help itself, by lending government support to local economic-improvement efforts, and by giving the communities more responsibility in areas ranging from justice to game management to child-rearing.

"I think we need to support what the communities want to do," she said.

In winning the by-election Williams doubles the number of women in the Nunavut assembly, from one to two. Previously, the only female in the 19-member legislature was Manitok Thompson, the MLA for Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove.

Williams said that while many younger voters told her they were bothered by the shortage of women in the assembly, she herself didn’t consider gender to be a campaign issue. "My personal opinion is that it doesn’t matter who [serves], as long as the job can be done properly," she said.

Though currently a resident of Iqaluit, Williams said she’ll have no problem representing the Quttiktuq. Her roots are in Arctic Bay, and she has spent considerable time in each of the communities as a social worker and community justice specialist. If money allows, she’ll try to travel to each of the towns equally, she said.

Williams will serve in the assembly until the next Nunavut election, likely in the fall of 2003.

She lives with her husband, Glenn, and two of her three children, May and Virgil. Her oldest son, Ben, lives in Rankin Inlet.

The following are the unofficial Quttiktuq by-election vote totals for each community:

Arctic Bay: Barnabas (64), Williams (60), Akumalik (52), Kango (26), Enuaraq (16), Kalluk (7), Tatatuapik (6), Roberts (1).

Grise Fiord: Roberts (24), Kango (17), Williams (7), Kalluk (1), Barnabas (0), Akumalik (0), Enuaraq (0), Tatatuapik (0).

Nanisivik: Tatatuapik (16), Williams (6), Akumalik (4), Kango (1), Barnabas (0), Enuaraq (0), Kalluk (0), Roberts (0).

Resolute: Roberts (55), Kango (11), Williams (11), Kalluk (6), Barnabas (3), Enuaraq (2), Akumalik (1), Tatatuapik (0).

Mail-ins: Kango (5), Enuaraq (4), Williams (4), Barnabas (3), Akumalik (2), Kalluk (1), Roberts (0), Tatatuapik (0).