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Nunavut’s federal candidates: Hunter Tootoo

I have many years of experience, Tootoo says


Hunter Tootoo, Liberal candidate for Nunavut: “I have a lot of political experience, I know how the system works.” (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Hunter Tootoo, Liberal candidate for Nunavut: “I have a lot of political experience, I know how the system works.” (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

To help inform our readers, Nunatsiaq News posed seven questions to candidates from the three major political parties contesting the Nunavut seat in the Oct. 19 federal election — Canada’s biggest riding and the only one that spans three time zones. We will run them in alphabetical order.

Here’s the third of three candidate profiles: Hunter Tootoo of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Hunter Tootoo, 52, a former New Democrat, is running as the Liberal Party candidate. As the only non-Inuktitut speaker among the three main candidates, Tootoo has had to defend his candidacy.

“I served as an MLA in Iqaluit for 14 years. A lot of people I represented were unilingual and they voted for me. I was able to get their concerns and issues across,” Tootoo told Nunatsiaq News.

He said his decision to run for the NDP in 1997. was influenced by his work with unions in fighting against steep cuts proposed by the Government of the Northwest Territories to employee salaries and benefits.

1. What makes you believe you’re qualified to serve as Nunavut’s MP?

I’ve had 14 years experience as an MLA, starting off with the first assembly in 1999. I served two terms as a regular member, then two and a half years as a minister and two and a half years as the speaker. I have a lot of political experience, I know how the system works. And based on my experience as a politician, I believe that I’m very in-tune with the challenges we face here in Nunavut and I look forward to bringing them and having them heard in Ottawa.

2. How much would you spend on badly-needed infrastructure in Nunavut and what sort of projects do you support?

Justin Trudeau came out with a big infrastructure announcement for 10 years. I talked to him earlier this spring and explained some of the challenges we face in terms of our huge infrastructure deficit. Historically most of the federal programs have been on a per capita basis, which doesn’t work up here because we have such a small population and it costs three times as much to do anything up here.

The nice thing about Trudeau’s infrastructure announcement is that the territory and municipalities would determine what their priorities are and then we would work with them through that 10-year infrastructure funding.

It’s no secret there’s a huge shortfall in housing in Nunavut. Housing is crucial because people need to have their basic needs met, and shelter is one of them.

If the Government of Nunavut identified housing as an infrastructure priority, then I’d be there to help them push that through, through the infrastructure funding, which is long-term and stable.

Another challenge is the lack of developed land for housing projects. Through long term stable funding, governments can identify where they’d like to allocate units, determine if the land is available and develop the land.

3. Do you support oil and gas development in the Arctic?

The Liberal party has said there has to be a balance between development and protecting the environment. Most people look at Harper and the Conservative government as lapdogs of industry. The perfect example of that is Clyde River and seismic testing. They were crying for help from their MP, who was our environment minster, and there wasn’t a word heard. They had to go to court to try to be heard.

Trudeau has said that it’s the government that grants the licenses, but the communities that grant permission.

Also, Trudeau wants to review the whole regulatory regime to ensure the Crown’s obligation to consult with Aboriginal people is honoured and respected.

4. What would you and your party do to address the housing crisis in Nunavut?

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party have made a commitment to affordable housing, and to try to find ways to make more affordable housing available to more people through some of the plans and announcements he’s made. I think there’s opportunities there for us as a territory to capitalize.

5. How would you and your party address poverty and job creation Nunavut?

One of the key things that Justin Trudeau put out there is that he wants to help the middle class and those striving to obtain the middle class. Infrastructure investments create jobs.

One of the big issues for poverty is the whole food security issue and the Nutrition North program. There hasn’t really been anything done other than forcing retailers to spend probably close to half a million dollars to put in a point of sale system that shows how much subsidy is on each product. That does nothing to help lower the price of food.

The Liberal party has made a commitment to review the program, and they’ve stated it needs to be expanded. I believe some regulatory changes can very quickly help alleviate some of the problems and make it more accessible to everyone.

Also, right now there’s only a subsidy for country food that’s shipped for commercial purposes. We should try to find a way to include the distribution of country food between communities and individuals to be able to qualify for a subsidy, because everyone knows it costs a lot to ship things around the North.

Any major projects that go on here, there’s always a lot of employment opportunities that go along with that. We have the potential for resource development creating employment opportunities in the North too.

One of the things that’s been an issue since before division in 1999 is education. If we can produce well-educated people, they have the opportunities in economic development. That’s one of the things that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party have said, that there’s a big gap between different Aborginal people and non-Aboriginal people in terms of education. Trudeau is committed to closing that gap.

6. How would you and your party address overwhelming addiction and mental health problems in Nunavut?

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party have made a commitment to develop and to work with provinces and territories on a national mental health strategy, as well as a national suicide prevention strategy. And he’s committed that federal resources will be there to help develop and implement those strategies.

And that’s something we haven’t seen under the Harper Conservative government. There’s been nothing towards a national suicide prevention strategy, and they’ve been making cuts to health care and across the board.

7. What are the most important issues facing northern youth and how do you plan to address them?

Some of the things that Trudeau said in his infrastructure announcement, like working on projects like recreational facilities, child care spaces, things like that are included in youth issues.

I come from a recreation background, and have always believed that’s underestimated. The skills that people learn in sports are skills they take with them in school, into their work life and their family life.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of getting young people involved in politics, whether it be at the municipal level, with Inuit organizations, the territorial or the federal level. Get involved and let your voice be heard.

You can read profiles of incumbent Tory MP Leona Aglukkaq here, and the NDP’s Jack Anawak here.

Candidate responses have been edited to fit the available space. Tomorrow we will run an open letter from the fourth and final Nunavut candidate: Spencer Rocchi of the Green Party of Canada.

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