Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut’s 25-year-old newly-elected NDP Member of Parliament, was delighted but pensive in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
She was at home in Baker Lake, surrounded by family, quietly watching the federal election results come in. She led the vote count from start to finish but the gap between her and Liberal Megan Pizzo-Lyall and Conservative Leona Aglukkaq – who kept swapping second and third place – hovered around 10 per cent throughout the night, preventing Qaqqaq from celebrating too early.
“I’m trying to wrap my head around what I need to do tomorrow,” she said with a laugh that revealed a sense of relief.
But she’s still wrestling with the perception of being a politician. She sought this lofty leadership role because she wants to be an advocate for Nunavut and for Inuit, she said.
“Now that I have the political status attached to me, that changes a lot of people’s perspective and how they interact or treat me. I’ve found that aspect to be the most challenging,” said Qaqqaq. “I’m a human that wants to help other humans, and it always starts getting complicated when there are certain titles attached to people’s names. I think that’s been one of the more challenging aspects to it.”
She’ll be in Ottawa in a few weeks to be sworn in as Nunavut’s fourth member of Parliament. Liberal Nancy Karetak-Lindell was Nunavut’s first MP, serving four terms. She was followed by Conservative Leona Aglukkaq for two terms and then independent MP Hunter Tootoo, who started out as a Liberal during his four years in office.
Although Nunavut recently marked its 20th anniversary, too little has changed, according to Qaqqaq. She said she recently watched a television report reflecting on the territory’s greatest issues when division from the NWT occurred in 1999 and those same troubles persist today: housing, food insecurity and economic development.
“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. 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,” she said. “I’ve always been very grounded in what I believe – knowing that things need to change in Nunavut in order for Nunavummiut to have equal opportunity and better living situations. I’ve always been very strong and passionate in that … it’s time that the federal government steps up and takes care of its people as they should have been doing for a long time now.”
Qaqqaq didn’t have a campaign manager so she did much of that work herself over the 40 days of canvassing, with support from a campaign team in Iqaluit and from her parents.
“My mom is my number one supporter and always has been,” she said.
Nationally, the NDP slid in the vote count and seat count, dropping to 24 seats from 44 after the last election. The expected “Singh surge” – under leader Jagmeet Singh – didn’t materialize.
“It’s unfortunate that Canadians don’t seem ready for that big of a change,” said Qaqqaq. “My party leader, Jagmeet, has done amazing, outstanding. A coloured man that wears a turban being a party leader is so phenomenal to me. I have so much respect for him.”