“I’m a human that wants to help other humans,” Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said after being elected Nunavut’s next MP.
She’ll certainly get her chance.
In a stunning victory that captivated the North’s and the nation’s political imaginations, Ms. Qaqqaq, a Baker Lake youth advocate and member of the New Democrat Party, defeated Leona Aglukkaq, a Conservative stalwart and former health minister who was the first Inuk to serve on cabinet.
She also felled Liberal candidate Megan Pizzo-Lyall, a former Iqaluit city councillor and manager of a business investment company.
Qaqqaq is 25, which happens to be the median age in the territory, according to the 2016 census and her curriculum vitae is little shorter than the ones that belong to her vanquished rivals.
Long dedicated to advocacy, Qaqqaq has been a leader with Northern Youth Abroad and has worked for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. She was also widely recognized for a speech addressing suicide in the House of Commons in 2017.
But if Ms. Qaqqaq has, overnight, become the face of the territory’s hopes for overcoming its many systemic problems, her success is partly owed to the major parties who have been unable or unwilling to fix all that needs fixing in Canada’s biggest, youngest and perhaps most troubled jurisdiction.
Aglukkaq had a bad election night because of the widespread perception, fair or not, that the Conservatives do not care about the social ills facing the territory.
This perception was not helped when she was caught reading a newspaper in the House of Commons while opposition parties grilled the government about Nutrition North back when Stephen Harper was PM.
In the next election, Nunavummiut turned to former MP Hunter Tootoo, whose reign was marked by murkiness and scandal before he was punted from cabinet and caucus in May of 2016.
We urge Qaqqaq to take her time, relax, gather herself and prepare because there will be many challenges ahead.
Federal politics is a rough game, Ottawa is a loud place where many voices will be crying for attention to their locality’s particular issues, threatening to drown out those who advocate for the North.
Nunavut is a place of unimaginable beauty, untapped wealth and an incredibly dynamic and adaptable population, but its relentless problems cannot be ignored any longer.
The territory has the highest suicide rate in the country. It’s the only jurisdiction in Canada where tuberculosis is a serious concern. It’s been dealing with an acute housing crisis for many years. It’s a place where buying a bag of groceries can literally break your bank.
What it needs is a passionate advocate for Nunavut and its people in Ottawa. Someone who won’t settle for pretty words and Qaqqaq could be that person.
“I’m not there (in the House of Commons) to fill a seat, I’m there to help 38,000 people in the biggest territory in the nation,” said Qaqqaq. “Things need to stop going unsaid and undone … I’m going to do my best to ensure that my four years sitting in that seat that there’s actual change, not just apologies but actual action and accountability.”
We love her talk. Let’s see about the walk.