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Tootoo digs in as former Nunavut minister urges MP to resign Commons seat

FILE PHOTO - Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Hunter Tootoo, announces the federal government's commitment to reopening the Kitsilano Coast Guard facility, in Vancouver, B.C., on December 16, 2015. Hunter Tootoo should immediately resign his House of Commons seat, a former territorial minister declared Thursday as the Nunavut MP's office insisted he has no intention of quitting Parliament.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
August 05, 2016 - 8:30 AM

OTTAWA - Hunter Tootoo should immediately resign his House of Commons seat, a former territorial minister declared Thursday as the Nunavut MP's office insisted he has no intention of quitting Parliament.

Manitok Thompson, a former politician in both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, said some 34,000 people will be directly affected by Tootoo's decision to stay on, despite his departure from the Liberal cabinet and caucus.

"Is it about him, or is it about the people that he serves?" Thompson said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"It is not about him anymore. It is not about Hunter. This chair ... is not his private seat, this Independent seat. It is about the people."

In a surprise statement Wednesday, Tootoo admitted that a "consensual but inappropriate" relationship led to his abrupt decision in May to quit the party and seek help for an alcohol addiction.

A subsequent statement from the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that the relationship in question had occurred in the workplace.

"I let my judgment be clouded and I also let alcohol take over my life," Tootoo said in the statement, which was delivered at the CBC's Iqaluit studios and posted to the broadcaster's regional Facebook page.

"I am ashamed and I apologize to all involved, especially the people of Nunavut. I am deeply sorry."

As an Independent MP, Tootoo loses the pull that comes with having a seat at the cabinet table and in the government caucus. He will also have fewer opportunities to speak in the Commons on behalf of his constituents.

On Thursday, Tootoo's office said he will "absolutely not" resign his Commons seat.

Thompson, who now lives in Carleton Place, Ont., stressed how "precious" the MP for Nunavut is to the region, given the serious challenges the territory faces, such as a severe lack of infrastructure and the soaring cost of living.

"It is the only voice we have in the Canadian Parliament," she said. "The point is: we don't have any voice at all as an Independent right now in a majority government."

As part of an outreach effort, Tootoo is planning a tour later this month of parts of his sprawling northern riding, which encompasses the entire territory of Nunavut, before heading back to Ottawa for the resumption of Parliament next month.

On Wednesday, The PMO acknowledged that Tootoo told Justin Trudeau directly about the relationship before stepping down to embark on a two-month leave of absence, which he spent getting help for his drinking problem.

"Mr. Tootoo informed the prime minister that he took full and sole responsibility for his inappropriate workplace conduct," the PMO statement said.

"In order to respect and protect the privacy interests of all individuals involved, we will not be commenting further on this matter."

In June, after Tootoo had quit the caucus, Trudeau described Tootoo's decision as his and his alone, adding that it came following "a very difficult situation." He did not elaborate.

The prime minister should have been more forthcoming about Tootoo's behaviour, Thompson said, noting the Liberals campaigned on openness and transparency during the last federal election.

"We have the right to know why he was kicked out," she said. "He didn't quit on his own. Nobody quits those jobs unless somebody tells them to go."

The lack of information only fuelled speculation in Nunavut, she added.

"There was no transparency. We were all left guessing what happened."

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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