Quassa stepping down to make room for new leaders
Outgoing MLA says he wants future legislators to ‘think outside the box’
Aggu MLA Paul Quassa says he’s resigning from his seat in the Nunavut legislature to give other members of his community the opportunity to participate in government.
The current Speaker of the legislative assembly and former premier of Nunavut announced earlier this week that he would step down effective Aug. 13.
Quassa said he’s been living in Iqaluit for almost eight years, instead of his own riding, which includes the community of Igloolik and a northern swath of Baffin Island.
“I thought it would be more appropriate for [Aggu] to have an MLA who lives in the community,” he said.
It’s widely believed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call an election at some point this year, and Nunavut’s MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is not running again. But Quassa told Nunatsiaq News he has no interest in putting his hat in that ring.
But he said he is not done contributing to Nunavut, although wants to do it without the constraints of politics.
“I’ll be able to voice my concerns or issues without worrying about what I should or shouldn’t say,” said Quassa.
Quassa, 69, was one of the chief negotiators on the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which created the territory of Nunavut. He’s a former president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and its predecessor organization, Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut.
Quassa was first elected to represent the Aggu district in 2013, and went on to serve as minister of education and premier.
As education minister, Quassa tried to implement changes to Nunavut’s education system that would include a bilingual Inuktitut and English mandate across the territory, but that bill failed in the face of overwhelming lack of public support.
Quassa was chosen by his colleagues to be premier after the 2017 election, but they voted to strip him of that role in a non-confidence vote in June 2018.
Being in government was an opportunity to learn, Quassa told Nunatsiaq News this week, looking back on his political career. He said he gained a better understanding how the legislature works, how other communities are run and the process for making bills.
Quassa believes his time as minister of education was where he did some of his most notable work, including the expansion of Nunavut Arctic College programs. He said he also pursued the goal of establishing a university in Nunavut while in office, something he still wants to happen.
Beyond politics, Quassa said he wants Nunavut’s government to be more representative of the Inuit population.
According to a Government of Nunavut report from March 2021, 50 per cent of the Nunavut government’s employees are Inuit. It’s a far cry from the percentage of Nunavut’s population that is Inuit, which was around 85 per cent when that data was last measured in 2016 by Statistics Canada.
“That should be 85 percent [Inuit employees] working in government,” Quassa said.
Nunavut’s population is also young, with slightly less than half of the people living in the territory under the age of 25, according to a 2020 Government of Nunavut population estimate.
“We should focus on them rather than focusing on southerners,” said Quassa, adding he believes these youth are perfect candidates for careers like nursing and teaching.
“That’s something the next legislature can talk and work on.”
For the future, Quassa wants Nunavut to become more self-reliant, which he says was an original intention in the territory’s founding. As well, he hopes Nunavut can eventually become a province instead of a territory.
To do this, Quassa acknowledges Nunavut’s communities need a lot — the need for healing has been brought up by communities, he said, after damaging colonial legacies such as Canada’s residential school system. As well, he pointed to a critical need for infrastructure.
“We need to see more community-driven initiatives and get the communities more involved,” Quassa said.
For Nunavut to reach these goals, Quassa says the territory needs people who are willing to think differently.
“I really hope the next MLA (in Aggu) will be able to think outside the box,” he said.
“I really hope the next premier will be able to think outside the box, rather than following the status quo.”