Disgruntled voters opt for change

Four ministers dumped; Okalik wins squeaker


Oct. 27, 2008 may go down in history as the day Nunavummiut cleaned house.

Voters fired four Nunavut cabinet ministers from their jobs and came close to firing a fifth: Nunavut's incumbent premier, Paul Okalik.

Only two cabinet ministers survived: Okalik, who slipped past Iqaluit mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik by 44 votes in Iqaluit West, and Louis Tapardjuk, easily re-elected in Amittuq with about 65 per cent of the vote.

But their cabinet colleagues – Levinia Brown, Patterk Netser, David Simailak, and Levi Barnabas – are now ex-MLAs.

Tapardjuk is now touted, along with Tagak Curley and Eva Aariak, who won big in Iqaluit East, as a potential candidate for the premier's job.

"One of the most consistent messages I heard, although it didn't apply to my riding, was people telling me there needed to be a change in government," said Iqaluit Centre's Hunter Tootoo.

Tootoo, whose dogged scrutiny of the government makes him one of Nunavut's most popular MLAs, took 356 votes, more than twice as many as Madeleine Redfern, the second-place finisher in Iqaluit Centre, who ended up with 160.

He said he'll seek a cabinet position, but not the premier's job. He still took a big swipe at Okalik's leadership style, which Okalik's detractors say is too controlling and dictatorial.

"The fear and intimidation has got to disappear out of the government," Tootoo said.

In Iqaluit West, Okalik fought a pitched battle with Sheutiapik right up until the 8 p.m. poll-closing time in Iqaluit, sign-by-sign, street-by-street, house-by-house.

Workers from each of the two campaigns dragged every identified supporter they could lay hands on to the polling station inside the Iqaluit cadet hall.

For example, Sheutiapik's crew of seven volunteer drivers, directed by veteran taxi driver André Plante, ferried more than 200 voters to the polls.

Sheutiapik and a team of volunteers were on the phone all day urging supporters to get out and vote.

The sprawling Inuksugait apartment complex, whose residents often work during the day, turned out to be tough work for Sheutiapik's canvassers.

The complex is home to about 150 voters, many of whom are transient GN workers and francophones, two groups targeted by Okalik's campaign.

That desperate get-out-the-vote ground game produced a whopping turnout in Iqaluit West: 90.2 per cent.

In the end, Sheutiapik's efforts fell short. At about 10:30 p.m., her financial agent, Victor Tootoo, walked into the Grind and Brew coffee shop that Sheutiapik runs with Brian Twerdin, the man she calls her "significant other."

"We've lost by 44 votes," Tootoo said, reading from a scrap of paper that showed Okalik won the seat with 340 votes over Sheutiapik's 296.

After accepting a series of consoling hugs from her supporters, including her sister, Betty Anne Eaton, Sheutiapik shed a few tears but kept on smiling.

"He's really going to have to work hard this time," Sheutiapik said, giving her interpretation of the message that Iqaluit West voters delivered to Okalik.

Okalik's campaign issued an email that evening announcing his election watch party was barred to reporters. By press-time, Okalik's campaign had not responded to repeated requests for interviews.

Eva Aariak, Nunavut's former language commissioner, took Ed Picco's old seat, Iqaluit East, with about 63 per cent of the vote, defeating Glenn Williams and Kakki Peter.

Aariak, the only woman to gain a seat, says education and training are big priorities for her.

And she's not ruling out a run for cabinet and even, perhaps, the premier's job.

"I can't come into that realm yet. Cabinet I can consider, but I'll need more than a day to think about it. But I'm not ruling it [the premier's job] out either," Aariak said.

Ex-finance minister David Simailak of Baker Lake, one of the night's big losers, went down to defeat at the hands of Moses Aupaluktuq, a former president of the National Inuit Youth Council.

Aupaluktuq said he wants to work on Nunavut's social problems and represent Baker Lake's needs.

"This position is not for me, this position is for Baker Lake," he said.

In Rankin Inlet South-Whale Cove, Lorne Kusugak took out Levinia Brown, the incumbent minister of community government.

Kusugak said voters chose him because of his record as mayor of Rankin.

"They know who I am. I've been mayor for six years, councillor for two [years] before that. I know this town very well," Kusugak said.

But Kusugak will enter the legislature with a big cloud of suspicion hanging over his head.

He faces a charge of sexual assault and rendering a person unconcious by choking them, relating to an incident alleged to have occurred in May of 2001.

A preliminary inquiry into those charges, which are being prosecuted by indictment, will likely be held in November. Kusugak denies the charges and insists that he'll be exonerated.

In Nanulik, Johnny Ningeongan of Coral Harbour eliminated yet another cabinet minister, beating Patterk Netser, the economic development and transportation minister, by 32 votes.

And in Quttiktuq, Ron Elliot, a popular adult educator, knocked out Levi Barnabas, the incumbent human resources minister.

Elliot is one of six MLAs in the new assembly whose primary language is English. The others are Daniel Shewchuk, Keith Peterson, Allan Rumbolt, Hunter Tootoo and Peter Taptuna.

Shewchuk, the MLA-elect for Arviat, is a long-serving wildlife officer who says mining must be balanced by environmental protection.

"One of the bases of Inuit culture is living off the land and the environment and the sea, and it's important that the skills be passed down to future generations," Shewchuk said.

The new MLAs will fly to Iqaluit next week for orientation and to figure how and when to pick a speaker, premier and cabinet.

With reports from John Bird, Jane George and Arthur Johnson in Iqaluit; and Chris Windeyer in Rankin Inlet.

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