Nunavut’s independent MP Hunter Tootoo announced July 30 he will not seek re-election in the upcoming October federal election, choosing instead to enter the private sector.

Tootoo told Nunavut News it was a difficult decision.

“Family comes first. A family member asked me for some help in the private sector. So that’s what I’m going to be doing,” outgoing Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo said.

“I really appreciate the encouragement and support that I’ve received from Nunavummiut across the territory over the past months, but after much consideration, I made the decision to leave public life and I will not be running in the upcoming federal election,” said Tootoo.

“For most of the past 20 years, it has been a great honour and privilege to serve the people of Nunavut, both as an MLA and as an MP.”

Tootoo thanked his family, friends and parliamentary colleagues who helped him through a difficult period in his life.

“I have grown, healed, and I believe I’m a better person for it. I encourage anyone who suffers from addictions, mental illness or trauma to seek the help they need, and remember that they are not alone.”

Tootoo was elected as a Liberal MP in October 2015, but in May 2016 resigned from his post as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and from the Liberal caucus. At that time, he sought help to overcome alcohol addiction.

First elected to hamlet council in Rankin Inlet in the late 1990s, Tootoo lost to Nancy Karetak-Lindell in the 1997 federal election, then successfully ran in Nunavut’s first territorial election. Tootoo would go on to serve several terms, including serving as Speaker.

Regarding his time as an independent MP, he said he contributed to positive change for Nunavut.

“(In Nunavut) we have a consensus government. There is a group of elected individuals who work together to do the right thing for everybody. And coming from that, I think I was able to bring that with me here (in Ottawa) and work with members of all political stripes, as well as my cabinet colleagues. I’m proud of the things I’ve been able to accomplish,” he said, adding his job was not just about sticking a knife in the prevailing government’s back.

“There are important issues (in Nunavut), let’s find a way to deal with them.”

Tootoo noted that in the past four years, the federal government invested more than $2 billion in Nunavut, over and above federal transfers.

He thanked Nunavummiut and his family, while saying he would be entering the business world to support a family member. He declined to elaborate, but did say he would live in Iqaluit.

“Family comes first. A family member asked me for some help in the private sector. So that’s what I’m going to be doing,” Tootoo said.

As for the upcoming federal election, Tootoo emphasized he would not support any one candidate, but will watch with interest.

“I’ve always said it takes a lot of courage for someone to put their name forward to run for public office, because automatically you have a target on you. There’s so many people out there that will complain and belittle, but they’re never the ones that are willing to step forward and have the courage to put their name on a ballot and try and do something about it,” said Tootoo.

“Anyone that does, I think it’s good. And the more people run, the more choice that people have and that’s what democracy is all about.”

So far, Conservative Leona Aglukkaq is the only candidate to officially announce her intention for the upcoming October federal election.

“When you’re constrained with party lines, you’re not able to raise issues in a positive way,” Tootoo said, adding Nunavut senator Dennis Patterson is an example of this phenomenon. “We’re probably stuck with that until he has to retire. That’s what I mean when I talk about the different party lines and being able to work for the common good to get something done. He’s clearly not an independent senator. He’s a Conservative senator. He plays that partisan role. It’s not always the best.”

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