'My late mother taught me to be a better man,' premier says

MLAs censure contrite Okalik after debating his obscenities


Premier Paul Okalik got off with a warning for the dirty words he uttered three months ago that became a national embarrassment.

MLAs voted unanimously to censure the premier Monday, Sept. 17 during a special sitting of the legislative assembly, for obscene remarks made by Okalik at a trade conference in Goose Bay, Labrador June 25.

Okalik called Lynda Gunn, CEO of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, a "fucking bitch." The timing was bad. Okalik, who had just attended the National Aboriginal Women‘s Summit in St. John's, issued several apologies, explained he had a bad day, and hoped the controversy would disappear. It didn't.

The remark made national news. Constituents flooded MLAs with complaints. Gunn refused Okalik's apology and pushed for MLAs to remove the premier with a motion of non-confidence.

MLAs did not go that far, and instead passed a motion of censure, which denounces the premier's behavior, and calls on him to seek "counselling and guidance to assist him," but leaves him in the premier's seat.

"My late mother taught me to be a better man," Okalik said. "I apologize without reservation, and I am humbled by this house."

The premier's voice wavered several times as he spoke, and he stumbled over a few words. He appeared contrite, and said he continues to seek guidance from elders.

The only MLA who appeared to think the premier ought to step down was an old rival, Tagak Curley, MLA for Rankin Inlet North, who said the public's trust in the premier has been "eroded deeply," and that Okalik could best restore the "moral authority" of his office by voluntarily resigning.

Hunter Tootoo, MLA for Iqaluit Centre, said he was "disgusted and dismayed" that the woman who overheard Okalik's remarks, Elisapee Sheutiapik, the mayor of Iqaluit and president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, felt she needed the premier's word that NAM would not be punished for her public criticism of Okalik.

Tootoo asked the premier for a similar assurance that no MLA who voted in favour of the motion would face reprisal. Okalik responded by encouraging every MLA to vote in favour of the motion.

Leona Aglukkaq, MLA for Nattilik, said that she, too, has faced verbal abuse from other MLAs, which she said was "utterly unacceptable."

She later explained that Hunter Tootoo swore at her following a disagreement in committee of the whole, March 14, 2005.

Tootoo, who disputes the exact words used during the exchange, but agrees he told her to "fuck off," said he was upset with her dismissive attitude and lost his temper. He later apologized, and said he thought the matter was behind them.

"I would have said that to any minister," Tootoo said. "It had nothing to do with her being a woman."

Aglukkaq also denounced how Nunavut routinely leads the country in the number of violent crimes committed against women. In 2004 her executive secretary, Sylvia Lyall, was found strangled to death.

"You face it every day. I lost my staff to violence against women. It's core to me," Aglukkaq said.

Aglukkaq also raised an important question over the proceedings, which she herself was unable to answer: "how do we convince Nunavummiut we mean what we say?"

Of all the MLAs who voted to censure the premier, the one who will have the most difficulty answering that question is likely James Arvaluk, MLA for Tunnuniq.

Arvaluk has resigned from office twice in disgrace due to attacks on women. He first lost his seat in the NWT's legislature in February 1995, following two sexual assault convictions that dated back to a hot tub party he held in his Yellowknife home.

In June 2003 he lost his seat again, and cabinet post as Nunavut's first education minister, when he was sent to prison for nine months for an assault on a woman in Aug. 2000 in Coral Harbour, which left the woman with a 14-stitch gash inside her lower lip, and permanent nerve damage to her face.

He was re-elected again in October 2006. He says he apologized for his actions, although when he returned to the house he never mentioned his history of abusing women – only that "I believe that we need to take personal responsibility for our actions."

As for the censure motion, he said in an interview he supported the motion because he agrees the premier's comments were inappropriate.

He says there isn't much he can say to please residents unhappy with his past. "You can‘t. You have to let time do that," he said.

Levi Barnabas, MLA for Quttiktuq, also lost his seat following a sexual assault conviction. In March 2000, Barnabas attempted to have sex with a woman passed out on a couch, only to be chased out of the home in his underwear by an angry husband wielding a baseball bat.

Barnabas resigned in August 2000, but was re-elected in 2004, after he swore off alcohol and said he changed his ways.

Nunavut's other female MLA, Levinia Brown, MLA for Rankin Inlet South and Whale Cove, sobbed during the proceedings. Louis Tapardjuk, MLA for Amittuq, wrapped an arm around her shoulder to console her.

Brown later said she cried at the premier's mention of his mother. "I was thinking about my mother, and how hard she had to work," she said.

She said she is satisfied with the premier's contrition. "He's shown nothing but respect to me," she said.

David Alagalak, MLA for Arviat, and Peter Kilabuk, MLA for Pangnirtung, were both absent from the session. Alagalak was said to have prior obligations, and Kilabuk was sick.

MLAs had gathered in Iqaluit last week to attend standing committees, so the cost of holding the special session of the assembly is negligible, said the legislature's clerk, John Quirke.

The legislature sits next Oct. 23.

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