What could have been
Goo Mosa Arlooktoo was a good and gentle man and he did not deserve to die at 38, an age when most men have not yet reached the best of their years.
Neither did he deserve the indignities he endured after losing the Feb. 15, 1999, election in Baffin South. Nor did he deserve the hypocritical outpouring of hollow sentiment that greeted his death, especially from those who not so long ago ranked among his worst tormentors.
Goo Arlooktoo possessed two outstanding personal qualities. One was his genius-level intelligence, which he applied assiduously to his work. The other was his sensitivity, which, perhaps, made him far too fragile for the knife-in-the-back, boot-in-the-groin world of northern politics. The coroner said a heart attack was the cause of his death. It may also be true to say that he suffered from a wounded soul, and that this may have hastened his passing.
At any rate, the story of how he got to where he was on the eve of his death says much about the distempers that have infected northern Canada’s political culture for the past two decades.
It was inevitable that Arlooktoo would want to hold elected office. His father served as an MLA in the 1980s, and as a young members’ assistant at the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories in Yellowknife, Arlooktoo displayed rare abilities, especially serving the unilingual Inuit members of the Nunavut caucus.
So in the fall of 1995, when at 31 he was elected to represent Kimmirut, Cape Dorset and Sanikiluaq in the NWT legislature, many hoped that Arlooktoo would reach his full potential. Then, as now, Nunavut desperately lacked credible political leaders. Then, as now, politics often attracted the worst, not the best people in Nunavut.
But Arlooktoo never had time or space to safely mature as a politician. Due to a severe shortage of talent within the Nunavut caucus, the rookie MLA found himself in the cabinet, and ended up as minister of the department of public works.
His worst enemies could not have chosen a worse portfolio for him. During his time in that position, the public works department was rocked by scandal and controversy, most of which was not his doing, but for which he paid an enormous price, personally and politically.
When he took over DPW, it was already embroiled in several controversies, including an ill-fated plan to turn Rankin Inlet into a fuel distribution centre for the Keewatin, an issue that was related to a conflict-of-interest scandal involving the eastern Arctic fuel resupply contract. In a tour of the Keewatin in 1996, people in one community accused Arlooktoo of being a traitor to the Inuit. For a sensitive young man at the beginning of his political career, that must have hurt him deeply.
The worst blow, perhaps, was his association with the conflict-of-interest scandal that led to the resignation of former NWT Premier Don Morin just before division. The department of public works, at time when the GNWT had more office space than it needed, signed a lucrative lease for extra office space with a company owned by a man who was a close friend of the Premier and who had built the Premier’s house for him.
As deputy premier of the NWT, Arlooktoo was closely associated with Morin. Inevitably, the sleaze rubbed off, and he carried the stink with him into Nunavut’s first election, on Feb. 15, 1999.
During that campaign, Arlooktoo and his supporters spent a lot of money. They distributed leather hats with the words “Team Arlooktoo” printed on them. They bought expensive newspaper ads and distributed slick brochures.
Most of all, they assumed Arlooktoo would win Baffin South automatically, and they were already promoting him as Nunavut’s first premier. But he lost badly, probably because he spent too much time in Yellowknife, and because his home community, Kimmirut, has fewer voters than Cape Dorset.
After that crushing blow, it appears as if his life went into a downward spiral. Used to earning more than $100,000 a year as a cabinet minister, Arlooktoo eked out a living as a consultant and a contract employee. Early in his career he had admitted publicly, in the media, to having had a serious drinking problem and being in recovery. But those who know him say this old demon came back to haunt him in the time after his defeat. Others say he was badly depressed.
With his raw intelligence and his experience, Arlooktoo could have offered much to the Nunavut government, and to many other organizations. It must have been galling for him to see lesser people than he getting elected to high office or being handed senior jobs in government for which they were totally unqualified. Many of those are the same people who have been coming out of the woodwork lately to heap praise upon him now that he’s safely dead. But if they really thought so highly of him, why didn’t they offer him a job while he was still alive?
Such is the fate of defeated politicians in Nunavut. Out of office, they’re treated like used toilet paper — and it’s the most intelligent and articulate who seem to suffer the most. Goo Arlooktoo deserved better treatment. He could have been much, much more than he was — had he only been given a chance.
Requiescat in pace.