Quassa stepping down to make room for new leaders

Outgoing MLA says he wants future legislators to ‘think outside the box’

Paul Quassa, seen in a July file photo, has resigned from his position as the MLA for Aggu. (File photo by David Venn)

By David Lochead

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.”

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Outside the Box on

    “We need to see more community-driven initiatives and get the communities more involved,” Quassa said.
    Good idea.
    How about if the GN passes along the money it gets from Ottawa directly to the communities so they can spend it on what they need.
    How about if every community with more than one seat must elect at least 50% of its MLAs to be Nunavummiut who are under 25 years of age?

    • Posted by iThink on

      This comment goes to show that in and of itself ‘thinking outside the box,’ is only useful if it is accompanied with thinking well.

  2. Posted by Soothsayer on

    Here’s some advice for your post political life, Paul; reducing ignorance is almost certainly a better goal than increasing animosity is.

  3. Posted by Inuk guy on

    In other news, the feds have open seats on some regulatory boards. I am sure we will see Quassa on one of these soon. He may also be joining his allies at NPC.

  4. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    It makes no sense. He says his goal is to make room for someone else to run. He could have accomplished that by running out his term, which only has a few months to go. There will be no by-election. So a new person can only run in October, which is what they could have done if Quassa hadn’t quit. There is more to this than meets the eye.

    • Posted by no tabloids allowed in news section on

      Kenn Harper the tabloid editor, doesn’t look good. Let’s stick to what we know.

  5. Posted by Nanauq on

    How do you think outside the box? How?

    • Posted by James Fadiman on

      This is a great question. One answer is the use of psychedelics, which have been shown through brain imagery to considerably amplify inter-hemisphere brain communication. Sounds crazy but Steve Jobs credited it as a key to his success. Thankfully the government has begun to see the benefits and is currently allowing its use in certain therapies as a way to reduce anxiety of dying. Check out the article below


      • Posted by Amazed on

        I am heartened that this was allowed up, hat tip Nunatsiaq.

    • Posted by Confused on

      Think about others, not only Yourself 🙂

  6. Posted by “Has Been Hunter” on

    Very interesting, ditching the riding that catapulted him into the latest political limelight after fiascos with the Inuit organizations prior.
    “To give room for those under 25”. Would be better to advocate for their future education and implore GN to abolish the present social passing education system.
    We have educated transients coming up to take on employment positions, while same aged Inuit are lining welfare lines with their young ones who unfortunately also have young ones and the line continues. There is definitely more to this than is being stated here. Do agree with Inuk guy.

    • Posted by Ian on

      Inuit are home in their homeland much like. The rest of us Canadians in the south that’s why only a small small minority of southerners stay a long time. And cannot wait to get out. Invest and mentor and train the Inuit that live their whole lives here and don’t tell me nobody wants to work

  7. Posted by Unimpressed on

    Ten bucks says he’s running for the Conservatives.

  8. Posted by boris pasternak on

    One cannot foresee the aspirations of this man; NA creator, signatory to it with Mulroney. many skills, peace maker, negotiator, perhaps this is the kind Liberals are wanting to have as Nunavut MP. Seating government do not want to give away too much, but they would if there was a right person sitting on Nunavut seat at the Hill, maybe even a portfolio related to circumpolar world, then sitting government wouldn’t mind splurging a bit knowing someone who know how Nunavut should be developed in the next decade. too many Canadians are thinking to much freebies are heading up to the North. If he’s not heading to the Hill, then something shuddering, it’s time for it to occur anyway; we, as Nunavummiut have been dormant in many areas too long as territory, wounded ducks. But it could be ITK presidency too; because RIOs and other top Inuks need a radical shake up anyway…complacence, addicted to air travel, good food good hotels and per diem rates, highest in Nunavut.

  9. Posted by ilisapirjuaq on

    The Department of Education during Paul Quassa’s time as Minister of Education made more progress than anytime since the late 1970s-early 1980s in producing well-designed Inuktitut instructional materials for students and teachers. It also promoted the concept of Learning Coaches and provided excellent training for the first cohort of coaches. Mat’na Paul Quassa!

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