Tootoo apologizes on behalf of Iqalummiut

MLAs spank Okalik for race-tinged statements


Nunavut MLAs chided Iqaluit West MLA Paul Okalik this past March 20 for making remarks in the Nunavut legislature that one member said amounted to "racism."

Fred Schell, MLA for South Baffin, said in a member's statement that racism doesn't belong in the Nunavut legislature.

"I believe that we need to come together and firmly reject any notion that racism or intolerance is acceptable in this house or this territory," Schell said. "We have all been elected to this Legislative Assembly to be leaders and role models for such values as compassion, tolerance, respect and wisdom."

Schell said anyone who feels differently should resign.

"I will be frank: any one of us who has a different agenda should simply do the honourable thing – resign and let the rest of us do the job that our constituents sent us here to do," Schell told MLAs.

Okalik, in a long, rambling statement and in questions, suggested March 18 that Arviat MLA Daniel Shewchuk is unfit to serve as minister of the environment because of his race.

Okalik questioned why "once again a non-Inuk minister is making very important decisions for us on the most basic of our necessities in managing wildlife."

Okalik implied that Shewchuk wouldn't be effective in countering the April 1 vote that could ban seal products in the European Union.

"An Inuk in your position today can easily give our case a lot of weight, by telling our stories first hand; you cannot offer that to the parliamentarians who will be making this decision in a month's time," Okalik said in his statement.

During the daily question period, Okalik received a reprimand or "note of order" by Speaker James Arreak for asking Shewchuk, a former wildlife manager for the Government of Nunavut, how long he has lived in Nunavut.

In his statement, Okalik also attacked Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliot for repeatedly saying that MLAs were elected on a "change" agenda, suggesting Elliot's win by only nine votes didn't give him much of a mandate for change.

"I'm not sure if I were in his shoes I would be enjoying the type of change that he represents of this government and he is boasting about it," Okalik said in his statement.

Okalik also criticized Premier Eva Aariak for taking the justice portfolio away from Ammituq MLA Louis Tapardjuk last month.

And during question period he badgered Aariak about an email that a deputy minister sent to other GN employees last fall speculating on who would win which seats in the territorial election.

Okalik said Aariak had been quick to remove Taparjduk from the justice portfolio over remarks about domestic violence that he emailed to justice department staff.

But he said Aariak took no action against Rosemarie Keenainak, the author of the email. Keenainak serves as deputy minister for economic development and transportation department.

"Since I was not the premier at the time, I will need some time to review the matter and get further details," Aariak said in response to a question about the email.

Aariak added that she preferred not to argue over the issue "endlessly" because "I was not elected just to argue."

MLAs greeted Okalik's March 18 statement with stony silence, and did not clap or thump their desks as they usually do after statements from members.

After an adjournment following Okalik's statement, Aariak walked out of the assembly quickly, while Okalik avoided reporters who wanted to question him further.

MLAs waited until March 20 to respond to Okalik. Most said they wanted to start the next week on a less confrontational footing.

"We have wasted enough of our time and our constituents' time with petty posturing and personal agendas," Schell said.

Hunter Tootoo, MLA for Iqaluit Centre, also apologized in his member's statement for Okalik's comments.

"I rise today as the Member for Iqaluit Centre, as a representative for Iqalummiut, to do something that unfortunately I think I need to do on behalf of Iqalummiut and that is to first off apologize to Nunavummiut," Tootoo said.

"I apologize in particular to the residents of Quttiktuq and the residents of Arviat for comments that were made here in these chambers this past week.

"I want to assure them that the views expressed here in the house are not the views of all Iqalummiut and I apologize to them for that on behalf of Iqalummiut."

Tootoo, who had walked out of the assembly March 20 shortly after Okalik started his 10-minute statement, said he respects voters who elect non-Inuit MLAs and resepcts fellow MLAs who chose non-Inuit to sit in cabinet.

"I respect the choice that every single riding and every single community has made in who they have selected to represent them. I also respect… the choice that all members of this house have made in their selection of who they have entrusted to sit as members of the executive council."

James Arvaluk, the MLA for Tununiq, Adamee Komoartok, the MLA for Pangnirtung, and John Ningark, the MLA for Akulliq, all underlined the need for consensus instead of confrontation in the Nunavut legislature.

"We'll never arrive at our destination if we're pulling in different directions," Ningark said.

However, the MLAs advice didn't sway Okalik, who defended his remarks again this past Monday, March 23, saying he just wanted Nunavut to more strongly defend sealing.

"I have not asked for anyone to be removed from cabinet," he said in his member's statement.

Okalik acknowledged that he had hurt some feelings in the legislature.

But he said he would "never apologize for doing what is better for my fellow Inuit."

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