Joe Savikataaq stepped into unseated Premier Paul Quassa’s shoes after an unprecedented vote of non-confidence June 14.
The Arviat South MLA was pronounced premier after two rounds of voting. Fellow Kivalliq MLAs Patterk Netser and Lorne Kusugak were also in the running.
“Yes, it comes down to leadership issues,” said Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main after the non-confidence vote.
“It was emotional for a lot of members. Not a happy occasion. (It was) a professional decision based on work issues.”
As chair of the regular members’ caucus, Main spoke on behalf of the other members presenting the motion to remove Quassa. He cited two reasons to remove Quassa – his ‘autocratic’ leadership style, and integrity.
“We wouldn’t have brought this motion forward if the caucus didn’t feel that there was a lot of support for it,” Main said.
Sixteen of 21 voted in support of the motion, including most cabinet ministers, with Finance Minister and Quttiktuq MLA David Akeeagok and Kugluktuk MLA Mila Kamingoak choosing to stand with Quassa. Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk and Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk abstained.
Akeeagok was the sole representative to speak against the motion. He wanted real examples to back up the claim that Quassa was “misleading.”
“I want to know … They (regular MLAs) didn’t give us concrete examples. If something like this happened to me, I would like to know the reason,” he said.
Main said all the evidence was available in the hansard, the record of what’s said in the house.
“You should read the hansard. (This) is not tied to any specific issue,” he said.
But some MLAs did point to issues, including overspending at the Northern Lights trade show. Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie criticized the use of ‘limousines’ – more accurately a car service – to transport ministers at Northern Lights.
On Northern Lights, “perhaps we spent too much and I apologize for that,” Quassa said.
He made a last-minute pitch to remain in the role of premier, jabbing at the way the motion was brought forward with few details in the public.
“Nunavummiut have elected us to serve for four years,” he said. “Consensus is not working behind closed doors. It’s working in consensus.”
Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes said Quassa had outlined his leadership qualities at the November race for Premier, when he ran against Netser, Savikataaq and Towtongie.
“Expectations have not been met,” Hickes told the assembly.
“The question is not ‘Is it too early?’ but ‘When is too late, too late.’ The reasons are real and concerning to me.”
At the end of the day, Hickes was acclaimed to fill Savikataaq’s spot on cabinet. This is a return to cabinet for Hickes, who was overlooked in November after serving as Health minister during the tail end of the fourth assembly.
“When I didn’t get into cabinet at the beginning of this assembly, obviously I was quite shocked. But at the same time it gave me a real opportunity to step back,” said Hickes.
“I was able to have more guided focus. But now, the questions I was asking … I’ve got to be ready to answer, too.”
When pressed about Quassa’s so-called leadership style, Hickes said he understood statements during the non-confidence vote were vague.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of being purposefully vague,” he said. “It’s not one specific example. I had a very difficult time this morning. I’ve known Paul Quassa for many years. He’s a relation of mine. I have a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished. We wouldn’t be here today without all the hard work he did years ago. And he did a lot of great work in the last assembly. His passion and his heart are there.
“But his leadership style … there’s nothing really to wrap your hands around. Everything wasn’t working.”
Savikataaq, when asked what his leadership style would be, said, “I’m a team player.”
The unseating of Quassa, which presented the hardest moments of a day that stretched to more than 12 hours, caused several people to cry, including Minister of Health Pat Angnakak. One long-time Government of Nunavut staffer said afterwards the move was a betrayal, and not the Inuit way. They said while the MLAs spoke of consensus, their behaviour was anything but consensus.
After the vote, which MLAs called a “burden” and a “struggle,” Quassa said his removal was “democracy at work.”
Regardless of the June 14 events, the 5th assembly has an approved mandate, Turaaqtavut, and an approved budget, both of which are unlikely to change much, said Savikataaq.
What has changed is that the government will be judged each and every day, rather than at a mid-term leadership review, as agreed on by all MLAs in Pond Inlet in February.
Savikataaq said he feels he has the trust of his colleagues. He noted there would be minimal cabinet reshuffling, and on Friday he reversed Quassa’s appointment of former premier Paul Okalik as chief negotiator for devolution. Okalik started the job Monday. Akeeagok is the new Deputy Premier and Minister of Economic Development and Transportation. Hickes is the new Minister of Finance. Jeannie Ehaloak is the new Minister of Environment, in addition to her current portfolios.
“Nobody won,” said Savikataaq. “It had to be done, and it was done.”
While Savikataaq has frequently met with federal ministers, he said he looks forward to developing a relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who sent his congratulations June 15.
Savikataaq said he wants the same as his predecessors have from the federal government.
“More funding, more health,” he said. “It might just be about a different style. The issue this morning was about management. I have a different management style. That’s what I’ll do to try to persuade the federal government to see our side of the problem.”
Quassa, in his second term as the representative for Aggu, said he would continue to represent his constituents. He was not present during the proceedings to choose a new premier.