‘I’m much stronger now’ Hunter Tootoo tells gathering in Iqaluit after 2 month absence

Hunter Tootoo told an open house in Iqaluit he plans to return to work in Ottawa in the fall.

(Hunter Tootoo speaks to media at a news conference in Iqaluit Monday. “For me this has been a very difficult journey” he told reporters. Photo: Kent Driscoll, APTN)

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
Hunter Tootoo discussed his addiction treatment and his next steps upon returning to work as Nunavut‘s MP Monday in Iqaluit but was much less specific when asked about his future with the federal Liberal party.

“For me, this has been a very, very, difficult journey. There are some deeply personal and private issues that have haunted me. Unfortunately, alcohol is often a coping mechanism for trauma, and that trauma is far too common in our communities,” said Tootoo.

Tootoo resigned as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and as a member of the Liberal caucus May 31 to seek treatment for addictions. He said the decision to leave caucus was his and his alone.

“It was completely my decision, to leave cabinet and leave caucus,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to have any distractions, other than to devote my energy and focus on my healing, and getting better.”

His resignation came directly following the Liberal national convention in Winnipeg.

Many speculated that there was an incident at that convention which led to his resignation.

“I know there’s lots of rumours out there, and the fact of the matter is that I came to the realization that the disease of alcoholism, as a progressive disease, was affecting me in a way that I myself wasn’t happy with, and that I realized that I needed to do something and I needed help. Like anyone dealing with any addiction, you don’t really realize that until it becomes too much for you,” said Tootoo.

The way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handled Tootoo’s resignation was also a topic of interest. Contrary to how Trudeau handled Hunter Tootoo’s departure, in December 2015, Liberal MP – Seamus O’Regan – left his work on Parliament Hill to seek addictions treatment, but didn’t leave caucus and was sent off with well-wishes from Trudeau.

Tootoo did leave caucus. Did he feel singled out?

“Like I said, it was my choice. It was completely my choice to leave caucus and cabinet, to devote and focus all my energy and attention on my health and getting healthy, so I can continue to be the person to do the job that I was elected to,” said Tootoo. “I can’t speak for the Prime Minister, like I said, I have the utmost respect for the man, I believe in his government, and I continue to look forward to doing my job as an MP for Nunavut.”

Tootoo said he plans to work in Nunavut over the summer before returning to Parliament in the fall, and Tootoo wouldn’t rule out a return to caucus. National media reports today quote anonymous senior Liberals saying he will not be welcomed back.

“I haven’t had any communication with anybody. Like I said, my focus is on myself, and now re-connecting with my constituents and other stakeholders here in Nunavut,” said Tootoo when asked if he had been in communication with PM Trudeau since he resigned caucus.

Prior to becoming MP, Tootoo was a member of the Nunavut Legislative assembly for 14 years, and was asked if his ongoing addiction to alcohol was a factor when he served there.

Tootoo then revealed he has struggled with alcohol on and off for years.

“I look back, this is not the first time that I’ve stopped drinking. There have been times I’ve gone 13 years without drinking, and I always went back to it,” he said. “Anyone with any addiction, whether it’s alcohol or anything else, there’s underlying issues you need to deal with, and you need to face. I thought at the time, my problem is alcohol. So I stopped drinking, but having not dealt with the deeper issues, you always end up going back to it.”

During the election, Tootoo was supported by many residents in Nunavut who wanted to have a member of the ruling party as their MP.

“Being an independent hasn’t lessened my resolve, to be a voice for Nunavut in Ottawa. I think if you look back at my time in the Legislative Assembly here, you know that I’m one who’s not afraid to raise issues or ask the tough questions, if necessary,” said Tootoo. “To me, it’s just part of doing my job… I’m still in contact with my colleagues in Ottawa, and the Liberal Party made a number of platform commitments that are important to Nunavut, the north, and aboriginal people, and I have full confidence that they’ll follow through with them.”

Of Tootoo’s return to work, the Prime Minister’s office sent APTN a brief statement.

“We wish Mr. Tootoo well as he resumes his parliamentary functions as MP for Nunavut. His status with regard to the Liberal caucus remains unchanged.”

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Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.

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