Former Nunavut premier Okalik to run in Iqaluit-Sinaa
“My goal is to make sure we improve our standing as a community to the rest of the world"
After a two-year break from territorial politics, former Nunavut premier Paul Okalik, 49, says he’s ready to serve Nunavut with renewed energy.
And he’s hoping to put that energy to good use representing the new constituency of Iqaluit-Sinaa if elected in the Oct. 28 territorial election.
“I’ve enjoyed my time off very much, but after discussions with my family and the people in my community, I’ve been encouraged by many to run again,” Okalik told Nunatsiaq News Sept. 24 — the day after he filed declaration papers for his candidacy. “I’d like to renew my mandate.”
The Iqaluit-Sinaa seats includes a big part of Okalik’s former constituency, Iqaluit West, which he held for more than a decade, between 1999 and 2011, when he served as premier from 1999 to 2008.
Nunavut MLAs chose him to serve as premier twice, in 1999 and 2004. But in 2008, they turned to Eva Aariak, then the MLA for Iqaluit East.
In November 2010, MLA elected him speaker of the legislature.
But Okalik resigned his seat in April 2011 to run for the federal Liberal party in Nunavut — an election he lost to Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq.
Since then, Okalik, a lawyer by training, has been doing legal work for the Nunavut Employees Union and the Nunavut Planning Commission.
“That’s given me a different perspective of how government operates, and a renewed energy to get involved,” said Okalik.
“My goal is to make sure we improve our standing as a community to the rest of the world,” he added. “I can look at myself — I’ve been down and out, but I’ve lifted myself up and got myself educated.”
Okalik sees a huge benefit in a good education — something he plans to help more Iqalummiut achieve.
“I’d like to see more people succeed in that field by providing a service that is accessible to all,” he said. “There are many people in my riding who need help getting employment and training.”
That includes focusing on training to prepare citizens for “what’s coming” — be it mining or information technology — and providing the social supports to make that happen, Okalik said.
As part of that, he wants to look at licensing home daycare centres to create more childcare spaces for Iqaluit parents.
But as his campaign starts, Okalik does not dwell on what he considered past achievements or failures during his previous run in Nunavut’s legislative assembly.
“We grow as citizens regardless of who we are,” Okalik said. “My time off has been good, and I look forward to moving on to bigger and better things.”
Okalik faced some controversy after the 2008 election, when he was found to have contravened Nunavut’s Integrity Act by soliciting election campaign donations from deputy ministers.
He also faced a lawsuit from the ex-chief executive officer of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, Lynda Gunn, for swearing at her during a public reception in Labrador.
“We’re all human and we make mistakes, but I’m moving on to future challenges now,” he said.
Okalik, who grew up in Pangnirtung, has spent much of his adult life in Iqaluit, with stints in Ottawa, where his three children live.
In what could heat up to be one of the most interesting races in this fall’s campaign, Okalik will face off in Iqaluit-Sinaa against Leesee Papatsie, founder of the Feeding My Family facebook group.
When asked if he plans to make another run for premier, Okalik doesn’t rule it out: “I am focusing on getting elected as the MLA first and the rest of the government will be formed thereafter.”