Paul Quassa comes full circle
Paul Quassa has regained the job that he lost five years ago, replacing the man who once replaced him as president of NTI.
Incumbent NTI president Jose Kusugak’s bid to be re-elected tumbled under a tandem assault by Quassa and Rankin Inlet-based presidential candidate Cathy Towtongie, in NTI executive elections held across Nunavut Dec. 13.
While Kusugak ran on his record, his rivals criticized it. In his campaign, Quassa played upon the resentment that he said many Inuit beneficiaries feel because they don’t see direct cash dividends from the Nunavut land claims agreement.
“They talk about ‘beneficiaries.’ What benefits have we seen?” said Quassa, as polling results trickled into the Cadet Hall in Iqaluit on Monday evening.
With the results from 15 communities still to be counted, there was still room in the race for someone other than Quassa to win, but the tide seemed to be in his favor, and Quassa was willing to talk victory.
Cash dividends for beneficiaries?
Quassa said that the discussion of possible dividends from a Nunavut Trust surplus this year had hurt Kusugak’s campaign, because the signing of the Nunavut land claims agreement had created a lot of expectation on the part of beneficiaries.
But under his administration, beneficiaries could expect to see direct cash dividends, Quassa said.
“With me they will come,” he said.
Quassa’s confidence and his aggressive campaign did not go un-rewarded. Quassa turned in a dominant showing in the Baffin, gaining 700 votes more than his closest competitor, Cathy Towtongie.
That, along with an upset win in Rankin and strong, but not winning showings in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions, propelled him to first place in the polls with 2,092 votes.
Quassa credited his prominent public profile, his platform of increased consultation with beneficiaries, and a vote split between Kusugak and Towtongie with propelling him to the top of the heap.
As the results from the second last community to be counted were posted, people at the cadet hall began to applaud Quassa.
Across town, at Kusugak’s residence, the former NTI president was willing to talk defeat. Kusugak had been at home taking care of his daughter, who was ill, and he never made it to the Iqaluit cadet hall.
When it was all over Kusugak came out on top in the Kitikmeot, but finished third overall in Nunavut with only 1,405 votes. Towtongie came second overall with 1,615 votes and won the Kivalliq region.
“I spent five years cleaning up the mess the last guy made,” Kusugak said. “And now I have to hand it back to the same guy who made the mess. ‘Here. Is it clean enough for you?'”
Jose shook his head in frustration. His rivals had campaigned on a far more palatable message than the one he had for voter and it cost him, he said.
“My message was there’s no shortcuts to implementation. Maybe people don’t like to hear that. Paul’s message was they’ll get it for free.”
Kusugak said he spent much of his campaign trying to put out fires and rebut the criticisms of the other candidates. He said that the land claim simply doesn’t allow for the cash dividends that his rivals were promising.
But actually saying that the claim doesn’t allow cash dividends doesn’t play well with voters, Kusugak said.
A debate between the candidates broadcast on CBC before the election gave Kusugak an inkling of what was to come. After hearing the platforms of his rivals during the debate, Kusugak said he had a feeling it would be hard to compete.
He said the debate proved people could say anything to get elected.
“I think I’ve been able to deliver unity and professionalism and accountability and what does that count for?” Kusugak asked.
Kusugak said people had been very worried about holding this year’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit, where delegates would have easy access to alcohol. People still remember the alcohol abuse by NTI delegates and by Quassa himself, Kusugak said.
“Maybe some people are just born lucky. All you have to do is say ‘I don’t drink any more,’ ” he said.
Quassa says he’s sober
At the Cadet Hall, Quassa was more than willing to admit his problems with substance abuse in the past, but he said that is behind him.
He is sober now and ready to get down to business representing the interests of beneficiaries, Quassa said.
While he was last in office as president of NTI, Quassa was charged with and eventually plead guilty to a charge of leaving a child unattended while in licenced premise, in relation to an incident at the Royal Canadian Legion in Iqaluit.
“My advice from the elders was to be straight forward and bring up the past immediately and to confirm to the people I’ve overcome that addiction,” Quassa said. He said the strategy worked and helped him to overcome what was his biggest liability in the campaign.
Quassa said that he had been able to win strong support in communities such as Rankin, Pond Inlet and Baker Lake.
Towtongie said her campaign was not about promises but about making sure the land claim was implemented and enforced. She said she was glad that she beat Kusugak, but disappointed she didn’t win.
“I call it the recycle bin. It’s time for new ideas and new people instead of just recycling the same old people,” said Towtongie.
She said she was disappointed that the other female presidential candidates, Okalik Eegeesiak and Rebecca Mike, had not done better in the election and split more votes away from Quassa.
“As a woman, I was hoping Nunavut would be challenged for a change. I wasn’t prepared for the prevailing mentality in Inuit culture,” said Towtongie. She said sexism made it hard for her to get her message across in some communities.
But Towtongie was far from down for the count, suggesting she might run again in the next election.
“Let them just think about that,” she said.
Quassa is to be sworn in to office publicly at the next NTI board meeting, slated for February 2000 in Kugluktuk. He was officially sworn in the day after the election.
Condolences for Kusugak
After congratulating Quassa on his win, Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik and ICC president Sheila Watt Cloutier went to visit Kusugak.
“It’s difficult to see Jose lose,” said Okalik. “He has supported us since April 1 and that will be missed by our government and by me working with him.”
Cloutier echoed the premier. “Certainly at ITC and ICC, Jose has been a great leader and so supportive and he’ll really be missed there.”
Everybody loves Raymond
One NTI incumbent did win back his post in the election.
Raymond Ningeocheak breezed through to a third term as second vice president of NTI with 3048 votes or 48.2 per cent of ballots cast.
His closest rival Kono Tattuinee had only 1,318 votes or 20.8 per cent of the votes cast.
Paul Quassa’s presidential win came with 32.4 per cent of ballots cast.