Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut September 20, 2016 - 8:30 am

Should Tootoo stay or go? Two Nunavut men give opposing answers

“How does the premier get away with not saying anything about this?”

THOMAS ROHNER
Andrew Morrison, left, of Iqaluit, believes that Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo has no choice but to resign his seat, but Franco Buscemi believes Tootoo should get a chance to show what he can do as an independent MP. However, they agree on many of the other issues that the Tootoo scandal has raised. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
Andrew Morrison, left, of Iqaluit, believes that Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo has no choice but to resign his seat, but Franco Buscemi believes Tootoo should get a chance to show what he can do as an independent MP. However, they agree on many of the other issues that the Tootoo scandal has raised. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

With all the media coverage that Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo has received in recent months, you would think that most of what can be said about the politician’s fall from grace has already been said.

But two Iqaluit men who came into the Nunatsiaq News office Sept. 15 to discuss the actions of their MP proved that isn’t so—there are unexplored and important discussions still to be had. 

Franco Buscemi and Andrew Morrison agreed on many things during that conversation.

But they do not agree on what Tootoo should do next. Tootoo was scheduled Sept. 19 to resume sitting in the House of Commons as an independent MP.

“I’m desperate to see someone from Nunavut break out of an addictions cycle in a very public way, so I can give Hunter time to prove himself as an independent MP,” said Buscemi, who believes Tootoo should remain as MP.

But Morrison, who said Tootoo could become a powerful example for the many Inuit who also struggle with addictions, said it’s too late for Tootoo to gain any real political influence in Ottawa.

That’s because Tootoo’s reputation among his Ottawa peers is already too damaged by his “inappropriate relationship” with a junior staffer that many say broke ethical standards, Morrison said.


“I don’t see any other option at this point: Hunter has to resign to allow someone to pick up the torch so we can get back to the table and get some real change. There are so many other amazing potential federal candidates in this territory. If we had a by-election, in six months we could be in such a different and better political situation,” said Morrison, a member of the Nunavut music group, the Jerry Cans.

Tootoo departed from the Liberal caucus and from his position in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet this past May 31, apparently to seek help for alcohol addiction.

But after that, media stories have filled in the blanks left by Tootoo’s silence and by the terse announcement that Trudeau gave that day.

The Globe and Mail first reported that a romantic relationship with a young female staffer predated Tootoo’s departure.

And then the Globe recently reported that Tootoo was involved with that young staffer’s mother as well.

Tootoo has consistently refused to provide any more details, saying he’s concerned about protecting the young staffer’s identity.

And in an interview on CTV last week, Trudeau also cited the need for privacy, and referred to the staffer as a victim:  “We need to make sure that we are respectful of peoples’ privacy, and uh, victims, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

But Buscemi and Morrison agree her identity would have been much better protected had Tootoo resigned months ago.

If Tootoo were a senior, powerful businessman in the corporate world caught in the same situation, he would likely be offered a severance package and forced to resign, Morrison said.

“There’s accountability in that sense in the corporate world, because inappropriate relationships affect the whole workplace.”

“Addiction is a disability, so you can’t get fired for that. That’s why if this was in the corporate world, Hunter would probably get a nice pay out,” said Buscemi.

“I’ve thought of crowdsourcing [fundraising] for a severance package to get him to resign,” Morrison said.

And the silence from territorial and federal leaders alike is just as worrying, they both said.

Morrison began an online petition Sept. 6, that to date has attracted more than 100 signatures, calling for Tootoo’s resignation. It is also addressed to Premier Peter Taptuna and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie.

The premier’s office told Nunatsiaq News in July that the premier would not comment on Tootoo, and NTI did not return a request for comment from Towtongie.

“How does the premier get away with not saying anything about this? There’s no jurisdiction in Canada that needs a stronger relationship with Ottawa than Nunavut because of the long-standing issues we have that can only be fixed with proper federal funding,” Morrison said.

Taptuna’s silence strengthens what Morrison called a “culture of censorship” in Nunavut.

“If Taptuna isn’t saying anything, how does that create a space for any Government of Nunavut employees to say anything? And what about young people getting GN jobs? They’re being taught not to express themselves publicly.”

Buscemi said the silence from Nunavut and Canadian leaders on Tootoo’s inappropriate relationship likely means it’s a big problem not unique to Tootoo.

“I think it would be like self-persecution for some of them to speak up. I know if I have an issue I haven’t dealt with yet, I can’t address the issue because I’m carrying this guilt of my own actions. I imagine that’s what a lot of the silence from our MPs and MLAs really is about.”

Inuit women initially took the lead in calling Tootoo to account for his abuse of power.

But Buscemi and Morrison said this is an issue that goes beyond gender.

“I really do believe this is a woman’s issue that women have taken the lead on, and I don’t want to be seen as ‘man-splaining’… But the abuse in all forms happening in Nunavut involves men. That’s why I really hope Hunter can turn this around and become a positive role model, like his cousin Jordin [Tootoo,]” Buscemi said.

Hockey player and Nunavut hero Jordin Tootoo documented his struggle with addictions in a book released in 2014.

Morrison pointed out that men need to support women fighting for their rights.

“It’s important for men to speak up too, because we’re all connected to women in our lives. If a woman you care for is being abused in some way, it’s important for men to speak up too.”

Morrison and Buscemi also agreed that Tootoo should answer the many questions his constituents still have.

“Traditionally, reconciliation would have been facilitated,” Buscemi said. “Hunter would be spoken to about what’s not right, get the different sides and families together, and then Hunter would be expected to learn from it and move on.

“I challenge Hunter to a pisik,” Buscemi said, referring to a traditional song contest used to air grievances and challenge family and friends, Buscemi said.

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