As election campaign heats up in Nunavut, Liberals anoint Hunter Tootoo
“I’m not afraid to say what needs to be said”
The veteran Nunavut politician, business owner and chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission, Hunter Tootoo, will now run for the Liberals in the upcoming federal election.
Tootoo, a former MLA in Iqaluit, announced his Liberal candidacy before about two dozen people gathered July 27 at the Francophone Centre in Iqaluit.
Speaking with Nunatsiaq News, Tootoo said he sought the Liberal Party candidacy for Nunavut because he’s unhappy about “some of the things that have been going on that I’ve witnessed and I know about with the current Conservative Party.”
“The manipulation, the interference — that kind of thing doesn’t sit well for me. And I can’t sit back and allow that to continue happening, which will continue to happen, as long as we have our Conservative [Member of Parliament] and a Conservative government are in place,” Tootoo said.
Tootoo wouldn’t give examples of this manipulation “because there are innocent people who could be affected by it if it got out there.”
In a news release, the Nunavut Federal Liberal Association said they are “pleased to count on a seasoned politician, business person, and community builder like Hunter Tootoo.”
This is Tootoo’s second time running for a seat in Parliament. In 1997 he ran for the New Democratic Party, finishing third with 23.8 per cent of the vote, well behind Nancy Karetak-Lindell of the Liberals, who won the seat that year with 45.9 per cent.
Tootoo held the Iqaluit Centre seat in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly between 1999 and 2013 and served as speaker, education minister, and minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp.
Tootoo’s campaign appears to be focused on three main talking points.
“The important issues are your basic infrastructure, housing, dealing with food security. The whole Nutrition North Program needs a complete overhaul,” Tootoo said, while adding he supports a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
“Those are things I’ll be pushing for, because those programs affect the people that need the help the most.”
“As Justin [Trudeau] has said, he wants to put help where help is needed. Not just throw money away for anybody, even those who don’t need it.”
Tootoo said he doesn’t disagree with any of federal Liberal leader Trudeau’s policies.
“Not that I’m aware of anyway. I don’t know which hockey team he cheers for,” Tootoo said.
But Tootoo did take shots at the Conservative Party’s record in Nunavut.
“We haven’t heard anything on some of the issues that we want raised or want to talk about,” Tootoo said.
“On food security, Nutrition North program, the environment, seismic testing — complete silence,” he said.
Nunavummiut haven’t elected a Liberal MP to represent them in Ottawa since 2006, when Nancy Karetak-Lindell last won the seat for them.
A aggregate of all public opinion polls published on the website ThreeHundredEight.com, suggests that if an election were held today, the Liberals would end up in third place with 26.3 per cent of the vote and about 84 seats.
ThreeHundredEight.com has the Conservative Party tied for the lead with the New Democratic Party, each with 31.3 per cent. Because of the way party support is spread across the country, that would likely give the Conservatives 132 seats, with the NDP coming second with 119.
But Tootoo is confident Nunavut residents will vote for him and he said his 15 years of political experience will help.
“One thing they’ll know for sure — as people knew me when I was in the legislative assembly here — I’m not afraid to say what needs to be said. It may not be popular all the time, but the way I look at it, that’s my job,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, Nunavut needs change.
“Nunavummiut need to have a voice in Ottawa. And I believe they are crying for a choice. And I want to be that voice, and I want to be that choice.”
Tootoo said he plans on continuing his work as a senior director of business and community relations for the Canadian North airline until the writ drops.
That’s when election candidates may legally start campaigning.
After the election is called, Tootoo plans to go on unpaid leave from his job.
As for what will happen with his current position as the chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission, Tootoo said, “a decision will be made on that very shortly.”
Clyde River Mayor Jerry Natanine is hoping to run for the New Democratic Party.
But the NDP has yet to make his candidacy official.
Incumbent Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq announced this past January that she will seek a third term.