Tootoo: 'I would prefer a spring election.'

Simailak quits cabinet

By Jim Bell and John Thompson

Beset by conflict-of-interest problems that just wouldn't go away, David Simailak, the MLA for Baker Lake, resigned from the Nunavut cabinet Dec. 11.

Simailak gives up two big portfolios: the Department of Finance and the Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

His departure from cabinet follows embarrassing revelations that he holds interests in two Rankin Inlet firms that in 2005 received $2 million worth of loans from the Nunavut Business Credit Corp., contravening territorial law.

He also holds an interest in a Baker Lake firm that just this year was on the verge of receiving a $1 million loan.

"He took the honourable step of offering his resignation," Premier Paul Okalik said in an interview. "And I reluctantly accepted. I wish him well in all his future endeavours."

To fill the portfolios that Simailak vacated this week, Okalik also announced a re-jigging of cabinet responsibilities.

Okalik named Louis Tapardjuk, the MLA for Amittuq, as the new finance minister, saying Tapardjuk will retain responsibility for the culture, language, elders and youth portfolio.

Patterk Netser, the MLA for Nanulik, is the new minister of economic development and transportation and the new minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp.

Olayuk Akesuk, the MLA for South Baffin, will regain the environment portfolio that Netser previously held and is now responsible for the Workers Compensation Board.

Akesuk loses the housing portfolio just as a bank threatens to foreclose on a house he owns.

(See full story, page 21)

Okalik said on Tuesday that Simailak volunteered to resign.

After several discussions with Simailak over the past week, Okalik said they agreed it would be best for him quit the cabinet, "in light of all the challenges facing our government."

It's not clear if MLAs will appoint a new cabinet minister to replace Simailak when the house reconvenes Feb. 19.

For his part, Hunter Tootoo, the MLA for Iqaluit Centre said the government's reputation has sunk so low, he "wouldn't want to go into that cabinet right now."

Instead, Tootoo wants an election this spring to restore public confidence in the government.

"My confidence is eroded," Tootoo said. "I would prefer a spring election. We need a general election I think."

The next territorial election would normally be held in February 2009.

Tootoo said Simailak's resignation is no surprise, but that he was surprised by Okalik's decision to give the finance job to Tapardjuk.

"I'm not knocking Louis or anything, but I think Ed Picco would have been the best candidate for that job," Tootoo said.

As well, it was revealed this week that Allan McDowell, the current acting chief executive officer of the NBCC, faces charges of theft and fraud.

McDowell says these charges are "baseless and that'll be shown in court." but their existence won't help the profile of the beleaguered organization he now leads.

When Simailak was appointed finance minister in June 2005, Okalik boasted that he could think of no better person to handle the portfolio than an established businessman.

In the end, though, it was Simailak's business connections that led to his departure.

In her damning report on the NBCC, Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General of Canada, noted two companies that – claiming to be separate from each other – each received a $1 million loan from the NBCC in 2005.

But Fraser said one company turned out to be a "fully-owned subsidiary" of the other, violating a legal requirement that says a single company may not borrow more than $1 million from the NBCC.

After looking at a list of all firms that received NBCC loans, MLAs on the legislative assembly's operations committee confirmed Nov. 29 that the two companies are Ilagiiktut Ltd. and its subsidiary, Kangiqliniq Development Corp.

Simailak told the MLAs' committee that he holds interests in the two firms, but that he didn't know about the loans until the list became a public document on Nov. 26.

He said that when he disclosed his business interests in 2004, he put them into a blind trust, where they are managed by a trustee without his knowledge.

Robert Stanbury, Nunavut's Integrity Commissioner, said Simailak did not violate the Integrity Act, since he had no knowledge of the $2 million loan applications.

But when a recent CBC news report revealed Simailak did not disclose his interest in Kangiqliniq Development Corp. until his appearance before the operations committee at the end of November, his problems continued.

Yet another problem is the status of a $1 million NBCC loan to Qamanittuaq Development Corp., which the list shows as being approved July 26, 2007, when Simailak was still economic development minister. In his appearance before the operations committee last month, Simailak also disclosed that he had an interest in this company.

When MLAs questioned him about it Nov. 28, Allan McDowell said the Qamanittuaq loan appeared on the list "by mistake." McDowell said the NBCC board approved the loan application on July 26 but it hasn't yet been signed by the minister.

With files from Chris Windeyer

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