When Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq took two months off at the end of 2020 to recover from burnout and to deal with depression, she knew that she would have to explain herself to voters.
She just needed to figure out how much she was ready to share.
“To be extremely honest, I don’t think I could come back and not really talk about what I was going through in those three months. It doesn’t go with the way I’ve been conducting myself as a politician,” explains Qaqqaq over a Zoom call as Parliament resumes sitting.
“That’s something I’ve struggled with, what’s the extent I want to share.”
Figuring out what to say and how to say it became a bigger question as her return to Parliament grew closer.
“Christmas and New Year’s was around, and I was just riddled with anxiety. How am I going to explain to people that I’m more than capable and more than willing to do this job,” explains Qaqqaq. “There are just some really realistic things that anybody with a heart would have a hard time going through.”
She has explained in a video statement that a major trigger for her was a tour she took of Nunavut communities to see the terrible housing conditions first hand. She lost weight throughout her term due to stress and anxiety.
“All those comments where people were saying ‘she looks sick,’ yeah, I just did three weeks of a really intense housing tour, where every home I went into had moldy homes. And I worked really hard most days. I was working until about 11:30 at night,” says Qaqqaq.
Now she has a plan for her mental wellness and is ready to get back to work.
She has trauma informed counselling and is trying some new tactics.
“This can look different for everyone. The way these heavy things come in can look different, and the way you deal with them can look different,” says Qaqqaq, adding, ““I have been having discussions on antidepressants and meds, what does that look like, what does that mean? I’ve put in a lot of hard work to figure out, what are the things I need to work on and what are the healthy ways that make sense for me.”
Qaqqaq, 27, is from Baker Lake, 1,300 km due west of Iqaluit. She was recruited by the NDP to run in the 2019 general election against Liberal candidate Megan Pizzo Lyall and political veteran Conservative Leona Aglukkaq who served in cabinet under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Qaqqaq won the election by nearly a thousand vote over her Liberal rival. She currently serves on the Indigenous Affairs – and the federal COVID-19 pandemic committees.
“After the three week housing tour and seeing so much turmoil and lack of justice for Inuit I found my heart hurting and soul heavy…”
— Mumilaaq Qaqqaq (@MumilaaqQaqqaq) January 5, 2021
That Nunavut housing tour also gave Qaqqaq a first-hand look at the perception versus the reality of the MP’s power in Nunavut.
She did her tour her way, and didn’t run it by the Government of Nunavut (GN) or the local housing associations.
It rubbed some people in the territorial establishment the wrong way, she says she doesn’t care.
“A lot of people, to put it bluntly, were very angry with me, for not following GN process and procedure,” says Qaqqaq. “I don’t work for the GN. I don’t work for the housing corporation, I don’t work for NTI (Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated), I work for the constituents. I have no obligation to go through any proper policies and procedure.”
If you listen to most politicians long enough, you’ll hear many say they don’t have a magic wand to fix problems.
There will be no ‘Abbacadabra” from Qaqqaq.
“I think a lot of people have this notion that I have a magic wand that I can just wave and fix things. I don’t really understand where this comes from, because no member of parliament has ever had that ability. Hunter (Tootoo) and Leona (Aglukaqq) have never shown us the ability to wave anything and change anything.”
Qaqqaq is the only politician in Nunavut who belongs to a political party.
The MLA’s don’t have political parties in Nunavut’s consensus system.
In that role for the NDP, she is quick to echo an NDP talking point when asked about her plans for this session of parliament, that if there is an election it will be the Liberal’s fault.
“What we are going to see in the upcoming months is the Liberals taking any opportunity and any excuse to push for an election. And they’ll take any opportunity that they can to make it look like it’s not their fault. They are gunning for an election and we do not need that. Not in Covid. Not when the economy is in the toilet, and not when people need vaccines and help right now,” says Qaqqaq.
When Qaqqaq wrapped up the housing tour back in October, she was asked if she would be running for the MP seat again. She wasn’t sure. Today, much the same but the needle has moved a little bit.
“That’s still very much in discussion. It took me a while to even get to a point where I could say ‘OK, this is what I need to work on, this is what I’m going to be doing.’ I definitely feel like I’m in a much better spot, and those discussions are leaning a lot more to yes, but they’re still not 100 per cent at all.”