Tootoo keen to join Cabinet

“Unofficial opposition leader” wants to be decision-maker



Hunter Tootoo, the oft-described unofficial leader of the opposition for the past five years, may cross the House to sit as a member of cabinet during next month’s leadership forum.

The Iqaluit Centre MLA, who was returned to his seat in Monday’s election, said shortly after learning of his victory that he would not refuse a nomination to serve on the governing side of the legislative assembly.

This time, he said, he would like to be part of the decision-making process.

“Last time around … some decisions weren’t always made looking at the big picture. We have to make sure that the decisions that we do make are well thought out,” he said in an interview during a party Monday night at the house of campaign supporter Kathy Smith.

Tootoo won 263 out of 589 votes in Iqaluit Centre, or 44.6 per cent of the total. His closest competitor was Mike Courtney, the affable vice-president of Iqaluit’s minor hockey association, who took 167 votes, or 28.3 per cent of the total.

The remaining votes were split between Natsiq Alainga-Kango with 13.2 per cent, Mary Ellen Thomas with 6.3 per cent, Kevin MacCormack with 4.9 per cent and Pauloosie Paniloo with 2.2 per cent.

Thomas found a small victory in her defeat.

“I think I was able to effectively communicate the issues that I raised,” she said in an interview from the headquarters of the Nunavut Employees Union, where her supporters gathered Monday night.

But she had a warning for Tootoo and the other new MLAs: “I think they had better listen to their constituents.”

Alainga-Kango echoed those words in an interview the following day. “I hope the ones who get in start to represent the community at the community level,” she said.

“That’s why a lot of us decided to run for the position – because we lack community representation [in Iqaluit].

Courtney, the second-place finisher, had stronger words for the incumbent.

“I think the numbers were on my side, we just had too many candidates,” Courtney said Tuesday afternoon. “I think I ran the best campaign in town. We knocked 10 points off Hunter. He should be worried.”

Tootoo took 54.8 per cent of the vote in Iqaluit Centre in the last election, and slid well below the 50 per cent mark at the close of polls on Monday.

But the Tootoo camp put a different spin on the results. Though he faced five opponents in this election, Tootoo pointed out he received two more votes than he did in 1999, when he faced three challengers.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “With that many people running, you never know.”

But by about 9:30 Monday evening, two and a half hours after the polls closed, Tootoo finally knew.

After a quick call from his mother in Calgary, and a few laughs and cheers from supporters attending the victory party, it was back to business.

Smith’s big screen television showed a live broadcast from CBC North, an interview with Iqaluit East MLA Ed Picco celebrating his win at the Grind & Brew cafe.

“He was crying. He was crying. You can tell,” Tootoo said, laughing at his colleague’s on-air interview.

He turned away from the screen to resume a conversation about his own cabinet prospects.

In early March, MLAs will travel to Iqaluit to choose the members who will serve in cabinet. They will also choose a premier and speaker.

“It’s not up to me whether I’m in cabinet,” he said, the smile fading.

Before he could complete his thought, laughter broke out once again at Picco’s TV interview.

“What did he say?” Tootoo asked.

“They asked him if he still wanted to be health minister,” one supporter said. “He said, ‘I hope not.'”

With a possible opening in the health and social services portfolio, perhaps Tootoo would like to step up?

“No, no, not health. I’ve been a strong advocate for housing and education,” he suggested. “But really, it doesn’t matter. Anything but health.”

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