Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut July 12, 2007 - 3:00 pm

MLA calls for Nunavut premier's ouster

Knives out for Okalik

CHRIS WINDEYER

Any hopes Premier Paul Okalik might have had for a relaxing summer appear to be dashed.

The premier now faces calls for his resignation after he used crude language to refer to an Iqaluit woman during a dinner in Labrador late last month.

On July 5, Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley called on the premier to resign over the incident.

"This type of violence against women by our premier is not acceptable and I join many who are calling for the premier's resignation," Curley said in a news release.

Both Curley and Lynda Gunn, CEO of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, are pushing for the Nunavut Legislative Assembly to hold a rare summer session to give the premier the boot. 

Okalik's remarks were directed at Gunn. Gunn and Curley also accuse the premier of violating Government of Nunavut policies on abusive behaviour.

On Monday, Gunn emailed Nunavut MLAs urging them to force speaker Peter Kilabuk to recall the legislative assembly in an effort to vote Okalik out as premier.

"It will now be up to you… to undertake further action to make the premier accountable for his profane remarks made of members of the Nunavut delegation in an interjurisdictional setting," Gunn wrote. In an interview Tuesday, Gunn said she didn't know how many of Nunavut's 19 MLAs supported a move to recall the legislature.

The next sitting of the legislature is scheduled for Oct. 23. Right now, it's not clear how an unscheduled summer sitting could be organized. And the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act is unclear about how emergency sittings can be called.

Tony Rose, the manager of facility and technical services for the Legislative Assembly, said recalling the legislature on such short notice has never been done before and would be "challenging but not impossible."

"We haven't done [a session] at this time of year before," he said, adding staff have not received instructions to start planning for an emergency session. He also said many key legislative staffers are on vacation.

Okalik has since apologized for his outburst, saying he had a bad week and that "my behaviour was inexcusable," though Gunn has said she doesn't accept the apology.

The premier has shown no sign that he's considered stepping down.

"He has humiliated a couple of very senior public officials [Gunn and Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik] and it's not acceptable," Curley said in an interview Tuesday. "And because it's not acceptable the premier just has to find ways to restore public confidence that has been completely eroded right now."

Sheutiapik was within earshot of the premier when he made the offending remarks.

Curley backed Gunn's call for a sitting of the legislature, though he said he hasn't talked to any other MLAs about it and insists he's "not organizing anything."

Curley lost a hotly contested premiership contest to Okalik after the 2004 election, though he said that's not what's driving his call for the premier to step down.

"I'm not a victim here," he said. "We must not lose sight of the two public officials that were abused," he said of Gunn and Sheutiapik.

In a June 28 letter, Sheutiapik accused Okalik of allowing his frustration with NAM to boil over. The association has been pressing for a share of future resource royalties for Nunavut's communities, while Okalik has said the GN should hang on to the purse strings.

Sheutiapik wrote that suspected Okalik acted with "such irrational behaviour and clear lack of good judgment is because you're frustrated with NAM's attempt to work on the preparation of Nunavut's communities to meet the demands of the resource industry."

While Gunn is the association's chief executive officer, she has been signing her correspondence on the current controversy with the phrase "Nunavut constituent."

Neither house speaker Peter Kilabuk, nor assembly clerk John Quirke were available for comment.

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