Nunavut premier ousted
The premier of Nunavut, leader of the northern territory’s unusual consensus government, has been ejected from office by a wide majority of his colleagues, including almost all of his own cabinet members.
Paul Quassa, a veteran Inuit politician and former CBC North broadcaster, was only sworn in as Nunavut’s fourth premier in November.
The non-confidence vote removing him as premier passed with wide support: 16 of the 21 voting members of the legislature supported the motion — including six of his seven cabinet members, the deputy premier among them. Three voted against the motion (including Quassa) and two abstained, according to John Quirke, clerk of the assembly.
Quassa remains a member of the assembly.
Members of the legislative assembly picked Joe Savikataaq, the deputy premier in Quassa’s cabinet, to replace Quassa. He promised to work with his colleagues.
The unprecedented move unfurled with little fanfare.
On Tuesday, John Main, a rookie MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, who chairs the non-cabinet members caucus, stood in the legislature and gave notice that on Thursday he would ask that the premier be removed from office.
To which the speaker of the assembly simply replied: “Thank you. Notices of Motions. Moving on.”
That notice for a nonconfidence vote was required before Thursday’s vote.
The brief debate over the vote provided few specifics of why members were so riled up.
“This is about leadership,” said Main, “this is not about any one project, any one dispute, any one issue.
“There’s been a tendency to an autocratic style of leading, which clashes with our consensus style of government.”
Main said Quassa also misled the House.
George Hickes, who represents an Iqaluit riding, supported the non-confidence motion.“It’s about leadership,” he said.
“Every one of us has a say on who sits on which side of this House.”
Adam Lightstone, another Iqaluit MLA, said his constituents were telling him Quassa had to go.
“They’ve spoken of the direction that this government is moving in and fear of how it may impact our territory.”
Quassa addressed members almost entirely in Inuktitut, but added in English: “I respect each and every elected MLA.”
He did not respond to requests for comment prior to deadline.
Quassa has been criticized for spending more than $500,000 for representatives to attend an Arctic trade show in Ottawa and for withdrawing support for a request to Ottawa for millions to build a road from the central Arctic coast into the mineral-rich heart of the territory.
The Nunavut legislature, branded a consensus government, has no political parties. Each of the 22 members is elected as an independent representative and then gather to select a premier, speaker and cabinet members from among themselves.
The premier then assigns portfolios to the members chosen for cabinet. That process was repeating on Thursday.
Quassa, 66, was first elected in 2013, representing the constituency of Aggu. He was previously the minister of education, minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College and government House leader.
In the 1980s, he worked on the massive land claims negotiations and was a signatory of the historic 1993 claims agreement and the formal creation of Nunavut as a separate entity from the Northwest Territories in 1999.
In February, after his selection as premier and a full caucus retreat, Quassa unveiled his government’s priorities.
In his announcement, he said the plan “reflects a collaborative and collective approach to defining our government’s mandate.”
The priorities emphasized: “community and social well-being”; developing the economy; strengthening education; recognizing Nunavut as a distinct territory; and building closer partnerships with the federal government and Inuit organizations.
Main said at the time: “My colleagues and I look forward to working with the government to achieve measurable results for Nunavummiut” (the people of Nunavut).
Nunavut MLA Paul Quassa was ousted as premier in the consensus government which has no political parties.