Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 31, 2016 - 7:00 am

Cambridge Bay voters weigh in on Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo’s future

"Most of his reason to represent people in Nunavut is gone"

JANE GEORGE
The way it was: Hunter Tootoo smiles during a campaign stop at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay, held just days before the Oct. 19, 2015 federal election. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
The way it was: Hunter Tootoo smiles during a campaign stop at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay, held just days before the Oct. 19, 2015 federal election. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — The passage of a year can change a lot.

People in western Nunavut’s Cambridge Bay remember how red-and-white Liberal party placards for Hunter Tootoo were set up at key intersections and posted in the windows of many houses during last autumn’s 2015 federal election campaign.

Many eligible voters in this town of roughly 1,700 people said then that they would follow polling predictions about which party would win nationally to guide their Oct. 19 vote.

That’s because they said they wanted Nunavut to get an MP aligned with the winning party.

So they voted for the Liberals.

Of the 705 voters in Cambridge Bay who cast ballots Oct. 19, 49 per cent voted for Tootoo, the candidate the Liberals offered, flipping the Tory stronghold to the Liberals. Tootoo received as much support in 2015 as the incumbent, the Conservative party’s Leona Aglukkaq had won in 2011.

The 2015 tally shows 361 voted for Tootoo, 170 for the New Democratic Party’s Jack Anawak, 164 for Aglukkaq and 10 for the Greens.

But now Tootoo no longer sits as a Liberal.

Tootoo resigned in May as minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard from the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons to enter addictions treatment— and then nearly two months later admitted to an “inappropriate relationship” with a female staffer in his Ottawa office.

Since then, many have gone on social media to call for Tootoo to resign, including award-winning performer Tanya Tagaq, who was born and raised in Cambridge Bay.

And an Aug. 24 release from the Qulliit Status of Women said while it supported Tootoo’s road to recovery, particularly in a region where treatment is hard to come by, addiction did not excuse the abuse of power Tootoo engaged in when he pursued that workplace relationship.

In Cambridge Bay this past week, Monica Ell-Kanayuk, Nunavut’s minister responsible for the Qulliit Status of women, declined to comment on Tootoo.

“I have nothing to add. The Qulliit release said it all,” Ell-Kanayuk said.

So Nunatsiaq News went back to speak with a random cross-section of Cambridge Bay voters, both men, women, mainly Inuit, of all ages, retired and working — who don’t usually comment on Nunatsiaq News stories — to hear what they think about their MP now.

All had met Tootoo and some said they knew him well. Many, but not all, had voted for Tootoo.

Overall, out of about a dozen people who agreed to share their thoughts, only two, both men, said they support Tootoo staying on as MP. The others, including a woman who had kept a Tootoo placard in her window throughout the 78-day fall election campaign, said he should step down.

No one wanted to be identified this heavily government-run hub, for fear of repercussions.

Tootoo told the Nunatsiaq News in Iqaluit Aug. 29, that “anyone that’s a representative for anywhere, whether it being a municipal level, a territorial level, a federal level, Inuit organization level — your job is to represent the people that you represent and you have to be willing to hear when people are happy with you and when people aren’t. You’re job is to listen to everybody, that’s part of the process and an important part of the process.”

Here’s what his Cambridge Bay constituents had to say:

• “I am very, very disappointed. He would have made the ideal good politician, but he let Nunavut down. I’m disappointed he screwed up and he screwed us up in the process.”

• “As a senior management person, it’s clear. It’s wrong to be in a relationship with an employee. There’s a reason: it turns the whole place upside down. He should have been more sophisticated. It shows a lack of discipline and an environment where he was having too much fun and not a lot of work. If I were him, I would resign.”

• “It must be uncomfortable for him, too. He can’t do his job and feel this cloud of shame. He made a bad, but basic mistake. He should do the right thing, and feel like a man in the morning.”

• “It’s sad, but where do you draw the line between personal and public? I think we should give him a chance.”

• “I think he should step down. He needs to cleanse himself of his guilt, if he wants.”

• “We value who he is, but Nunavut is in a position where we need to progress. We’re hopeful he’ll get the help he needs.”

• “He should resign. He makes a bad image for Inuit men.”

• “It’s kind of hard for me. I like the guy and I’d like good for him, and I know he’d do a good job for us. But people are having a hard time, people are struggling with the whole thing. We should give him a little time to get his life together.”

• “I’m not a judge, but it will hurt us if he doesn’t get back into the Liberal caucus. The whole country feels good and we’re left out of it.”

• “Hunter should resign. Before we voted, we all knew he was chauvinistic. But we had hopes that he would live up to his job, we had hopes he would do well for Nunavut. Our hopes were for the Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau and we had expectations for Hunter.”

• “I know Hunter personally. He doesn’t have strong political stands, and now that he’s not in the party, most of his reason to represent people in Nunavut is gone. I don’t understand why he hasn’t left — does he have the guts to resign?”

• “He should resign. We need a certain standard of behaviour when you are an elected official, He’s not a good representative for us — he came to the Kitikmeot Trade Show. I wonder if I’ll see him again for opening of CHARS.”

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station, one of the largest buildings ever erected in northern Canada, is set to be opened July 1, 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Several people who spoke to Nunatsiaq News wondered how that ceremony will work if Tootoo remains in office.

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