Nunavut MLAs put Arreak in cabinet, Okalik in speaker’s chair
Okalik pledges to be “helpful in a different capacity”
Updated Nov. 5, 1:26 p.m.
Two Nunavut MLAs have new jobs as the Legislative Assembly wrapped up a leadership forum in Iqaluit Nov. 4.
Uqqummiut MLA James Arreak stepped down as speaker and won a spot in Nunavut’s executive council, meaning he’ll fill the cabinet position vacated by Louis Tapardjuk late last month.
“I don’t see it as stepping down,” Arreak told reporters after the results were announced. “[It’s] being part of the Government of Nunavut, so it’s a step up.”
Arreak defeated South Baffin MLA Fred Schell, who made his second attempt for cabinet spot, and newcomer Jeannie Ugyuk, MLA for Nattilik.
The political veteran, who has also served in the Northwest Territories assembly, pitched his experience in politics and business in a speech to MLAs.
At a swearing-in ceremony for Arreak Nov. 5, Premier Eva Aariak announced Arreak would take over as Minister of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth, and Minister of Languages. Both jobs were previously held by Tapardjuk.
A spokesperson for the premier said there could be other, minor changes to cabinet assignments in the coming weeks.
Ex-premier Paul Okalik won the election to replace Arreak in the speaker’s chair. Ugyuk also ran for that job.
Okalik appeared surprised to be nominated by Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott.
But he said he’ll still lobby cabinet and regular MLAs on issues that are important to him.
“Everybody knows where I stand on most issues anyway,” he said.
The former premier has been one of the harshest critics of Aariak’s government and as speaker he’ll be expected to take a more neutral role as manager of the Legislative Assembly.
Okalik appeared to be ready to withdraw from daily political combat, channeling the words of former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell, who stepped down Nov. 3 after a lengthy political storm over a new sales tax that has seen his approval rate plummet.
“There’s personalities that are often the focus, when you should be focusing on the issues, so I felt that at this time I should be trying to be helpful in a different capacity,” he said.
Aariak praised the records of both Arreak and Okalik and congratulated them on their new roles.
“They are both seasoned politicians and I am sure they will both contribute hugely to the Legislative Assembly,” Aariak said.
The results of the secret-ballot votes won’t be made public.