Nunavut MLA Hunter Tootoo leaves politics after old seat disappears
“It was all about leaving something I love doing”
After 14 years in Nunavut’s legislative assembly, Hunter Tootoo is calling it quits — for now.
His old constituency of Iqaluit Centre has disappeared, divided up among four new Iqaluit ridings.
So Tootoo, with the distinction of having served more consecutive years in the legislative assembly than any other incumbent MLA, has decided to leave politics for a while.
“Right now I just need a break,” said Tootoo, who was first elected to his seat in 1999, in Nunavut’s first territorial election.
“Since 1999, I’ve had the honour and the privilege to represent the citizens of Iqaluit Centre, and I think it’s a good time [to leave], because Iqaluit Centre is gone,” he said Oct.1.
Tootoo, 50, said he has no immediate plans.
“I’m sure other opportunities are out there, and something will come up. But right now I’m just planning on taking it easy for a little while.”
Elected speaker of the last assembly on May 31, 2011, the veteran MLA said he decided not to run well before the call for candidates opened on Sept. 23.
“It was a tough decision for me to make,” he told Nunatsiaq News, Oct. 1. “It was about leaving something that I love doing, and I really cared about doing.”
Tootoo described his mood as “kind of like mourning a loss,” given that he felt “extremely” privileged to take on such a job, despite its extraordinary demands.
“I look back over the years, and I think that I helped make a difference. The thing you’ve got to realize about politics is you’re never going to make everybody happy, no matter what you do,” he laughed.
“I never realized the amount of pressure and stress that is on you, until it’s gone.”
Tootoo was the last MLA of the first elected group to sit in the legislature for the entire 14 years that have passed since April 1, 1999.
“That was a pretty amazing day,” he said, recalling various territorial acts the assembly pushed through in its first sessions.
Tootoo sat as a regular MLA until 2008, when he was named education minister, a period which he sees as the busiest point of his political career.
The assembly re-appointed him to the task in 2010, when he was also made responsible other portfolios, including housing, homelessness, energy, and workers’ safety and compensation.
Tootoo took on the speaker’s role in 2011, which he described as “a lot less frustrating,” but no less demanding.
“Even as a speaker, you’re still involved with everything that’s going on. When you get in there, your life is not your own anymore,” he said. “You’re always under the microscope, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to do the job properly.”
As he leaves the job, Tootoo had a few words of advice for new members.
“Always push to make sure you get all your information. I’d always want to make the most informed decision,” he said. “Do all your homework. Ask questions if you’re not sure about something.”
A good sense of humour also comes with the territory. “You’ve always got to have humour to lighten things up,” he said.
“People who’ve known and worked with me over the years know that I like to joke around. It just makes things more enjoyable.”
Originally from Rankin Inlet, Tootoo moved to Iqaluit in August 1997, and has no intention to leave any time soon, nor leave politics completely.
“Never say never,” he quipped. “The way I look at it, it’s not necessarily a break, but passing on the torch,” he said.
His first task as he leaves office is to lend a hand to cousin George Hickes, he said, who is in the running in the Iqaluit-Tasiluk seat.