Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut January 16, 2004 - 1:38 pm

Mike Courtney to contest Iqaluit Centre riding

Iqaluit Centre's feisty MLA, Hunter Tootoo, faces a feisty new contender


Hunter Tootoo, who is sometimes branded as Nunavut’s unofficial leader of the opposition, will himself be opposed on Feb. 16.

Mike Courtney, 38, a well-known community activist, amateur sports volunteer, and executive assistant to former cabinet minister Jack Anawak, this week launched a major bid to capture Hunter Tootoo’s Iqaluit Centre constituency.

Courtney’s “I Like Mike” campaign began to rev up this past Monday morning, after he filed nomination papers. On Wednesday, he formally announced his campaign, saying he will emphasize housing, infrastructure, health care, child care and education.

“I’ve been in Nunavut for over 18 years now and in every community I’ve worked in I’ve participated voluntarily in events and stuff like that. While living here in Iqaluit, I seem to get more and more and more involved politically and a bunch of people approached me and asked if I would be interested in running,” Courtney said.

Courtney said he and his supporters, who include campaign manager Ben Kovic, picked Iqaluit Centre because of its demographics, or population mix, and not because of who the sitting member happens to be.

“We sat down and looked at the schematics of the three ridings and we figured this is one where we have the best chance at putting in a good showing. It’s a more transient population, and so getting out and being more visible with these people, I’d have a better chance than areas where long-term Iqalungmiut have lived,” Courtney said.

He said he wants to spend the 35-day campaign talking to as many Iqaluit Centre residents as possible, to discover the issues that concern them.

“A few that I’ve heard, number one, are child care and education. I was chair of the Pairivik daycare association so I’m aware of the issues such as space availability and staffing and stuff like that,” he said.

“Education and child care is going to be high up on my agenda, along with economic development,” he said.

Mary-Ellen Thomas, a GN employee who has long been active in public service unions, is also expected to be a candidate, but would neither confirm nor deny that in a phone call this week.

“I’ve heard the same rumour too. You can find out along with everyone else at 2 p.m. on Friday,” she said.

As of Nunatsiaq News’ press-time on Wednesday, no other candidates had been nominated for Iqaluit West.

Hunter Tootoo formally announced last Friday that he will stand for re-election in Iqaluit Centre - something he was widely expected to do.

Tootoo developed a reputation as one of the most persistent questioners in the ordinary members’ caucus over the past four years, peppering cabinet ministers with questions about education, childcare, health care, contracting policy and financial management.

He says his reputation will do him no harm this time around.

“I’m not worried about that…. I think the only people who didn’t appreciate that were some of the ministers. I’m going to go in there and not be afraid to raise issues and concerns that are important to people,” Tootoo said.

Tootoo, a former manager with the Northwest Territories Housing Corp. and Arctic Co-ops Ltd., won 54.8 per cent of the vote in Iqaluit Centre in the last election, easily defeating Lynda Gunn, Johnny Nowdlak and Bill Strickland.

“Last time around, it was a nice, clean campaign, and election, and hopefully it will continue and people will stick with the issues and people will decide who they want to support based on the issues,” Tootoo told reporters.

This time, Tootoo said he will focus on families, the community, and accountability and transparency within government.

But he warns that the next Nunavut government and legislature must deal with a shortage of money.

“We all know that our fiscal situation isn’t going to be the greatest. Unless there’s some improvements made to that, it’s a challenge the second assembly is going to face. The people need to realize that there is the potential for tough times ahead unless some changes can be made,” Tootoo said.

When asked if he would seek a position on cabinet, if elected as an MLA, Tootoo wouldn’t say yes or no.

“We’ll have to wait and see. I have to get elected first…. The first step is getting re-elected, then assess the situation and go from there,” he said.

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