NEWS: Nunavut June 14, 2018 - 2:59 pm

Nunavut premier removed by non-confidence vote

16 members vote to oust Quassa, three vote to keep him, two abstain

BETH BROWN

(Updated at 3:23 p.m.)

Nunavut’s MLAs will pick a new premier this afternoon, after they removed Aggu MLA Paul Quassa from that lead role during a historic non-confidence vote in the legislative assembly earlier today, June 14.

Of 21 members, including Quassa, but not including the Speaker, 16 voted in favour of a motion to oust the premier, while three voted to keep him and two members chose to abstain.

That means that Nunavut’s MLAs must pick a new premier, before dealing with any other business.

Starting today at 3:30 p.m., MLAs will hold a leadership forum to elect a new premier and a new member of the executive council. You can watch the proceedings live on the legislative assembly website.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main, in his role as chair of the regular members caucus, gave notice of the motion to remove Quassa from cabinet on Tuesday, June 12. Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak seconded the motion.

During Thursday’s vote, Quttiktuq MLA and Finance Minister David Akeeagok and Kugluktuk MLA Mila Adjukak Kamingoak voted to keep Quassa as premier. Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk and Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk chose to abstain from a vote. All other members supported the non-confidence motion.

“I’m not pleased with it,” Main said, adding that the motion is professional rather than personal. “The Government of Nunavut is a $2 billion-a-year ship. We need to know that the captain is pointing the ship in the right direction.”

The motion is the result of no single action, Main said. Instead, it was Quassa’s “autocratic style” of leadership that MLAs lost confidence with, as well as unspecified “misleading statements” Main accused Quassa of making in the legislature.

When Akeeagok urged Main to provide specifics about how Quassa misled the legislature, Main simply responded by saying that the details are in the record of legislative proceedings, Hansard.

Earlier this sitting, MLAs grilled Quassa about his government’s decision to spend $570,000 to send more than 60 people to the Northern Lights conference in Ottawa earlier this year.

As well, MLAs have criticized the government’s decision to withdraw its support from the proposed Grays Bay port and road in western Nunavut.

“We wouldn’t have brought the motion forward if the caucus didn’t feel that there was a lot of support for it,” Main told reporters afterwards. “It was emotional for a lot of members, not a happy occasion.”

“It comes down to leadership issues, many of which were brought up in the house.”

In Nunavut’s consensus-style government, regular members outnumber the executive council, or cabinet, effectively creating a minority government.

When he spoke to the motion, Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak said that the assembly had chosen during its leadership forum not to hold a mid-term leadership review of their government—but made it clear that this kind of motion could be brought up if needed.

“Whatever the decision is, it’s going to be good for today and for Nunavummiut,” Quassa said in response to the motion.

Quassa, from Igloolik, is Nunavut’s former education minister, a previous president of Nunavut Tunnagvik Inc. and a signatory of the Nunavut Agreement. He ran for premier in the last government, but lost.

This is the fifth legislative assembly since Nunavut became a territory in 1999. There have been four Nunavut premiers, as Paul Okalik served two terms. Okalik’s resignation was called for in 2007, but today is the first time a formal motion has been made for a premier to resign.

“It’s only been seven months. We’re just starting,” Quassa said. “It’s not a party system. It’s a consensus style of government, that’s our tradition.”

Quassa called on members to remember that their government is founded on dialogue and teamwork.

As for excess spending flagged over the Northern Lights tradeshow, Quassa told members he has already apologized for that.

“At the next event we will operate differently,” he said.

Following the vote, many of the members and visitors in gallery hugged Quassa.

He then gave a brief interview to reporters.

“Nunavut was created with a vision and I’m sure this house will continue,” he said. “I wasn’t voted out as an MLA, I’m still going to continue speaking on behalf of my constituency.”