'I want to apologize to the people of Nunavut': Ex-premier Paul Quassa on his ousting, and public reaction

The news of the now former Nunavut Premier Paul Quassa being ousted this week took Nunavummiut, and the country, by surprise — but perhaps it was most shocking for Quassa himself.

Members of the public react with surprise and dismay at sudden removal of premier

'It felt like it came out of nowhere,' Paul Quassa says of the motion that led to this removal as premier. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

The news of the now former Nunavut premier Paul Quassa being ousted this week took Nunavummiut, and the country, by surprise — but perhaps it was most shocking for Quassa himself.

"It all happened so fast," said Quassa in Inuktitut. The fourth premier of Nunavut lost his job after a majority of caucus voted against him in a non-confidence motion Thursday, just seven months after he assumed the role.

It just came out of nowhere.- Paul Quassa, former Nunavut premier

The move of dethroning Quassa made headlines Tuesday as member of the legislative assembly John Main gave his 48 hours' notice of a motion.

Main and other MLAs stayed mum about the reasons for their swift action even on Thursday as the motion was making its way through legislature.

Joe Savikataaq, who was deputy premier under Quassa, was voted in as the territory's newest premier by late Thursday afternoon.

"It felt like it just came out of nowhere," Quassa told CBC News Friday morning. "It was shocking."

While expressing disappointment, the former premier offered an apology to the people about the chaos that unfolded this week.

It just feels like the premier was sacked out of his position without the population really knowing what was going behind closed doors.- Ivo Vigouroux, member of public

"I want to apologize to the people of Nunavut for getting them worried," he said. "They're not supposed to be worried, but when we go through this, it can be worrisome."

News 'thrown in our face,' man says

Members of the public had very little knowledge that members of the legislature were unhappy with their leader until this week.

"It doesn't seem like we got a lot of information. It was kinda thrown in our face, to be honest," said Ivo Vigouroux in Iqaluit Friday.

"It just feels like the premier was sacked out of his position without the population really knowing what was going behind closed doors."

Mathew Tikivik echoed that sentiment, saying elected officials were "too secretive," and suggested a policy change.

Because of Nunavut's consensus-style government with no parties, the public doesn't have a direct say on who will be premier. The elected MLAs vote in the premier after holding a leadership forum.

"We as Inuit have no real means to dictate what goes on at the legislature … when seeking a premier and the process is limited to only a handful of people. So this needs to change I think in my opinion," said Tikivik.

On a Facebook group created Tuesday called "I stand with Paul Quassa," supporters expressed dismay after Thursday's outcome.

"Oh Nunavut!!! My heart cries out today!!! We took a step backwards instead of forward!!!" wrote one commenter.

"If your MLAs can't tell you why they are voting a certain way on something this important, then whose leadership is in question today?" it says in a post.

MLAs still vague about reasons for ousting Quassa

George Hickes was a regular MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk Thursday morning. By Friday, Hickes joined cabinet as minister of finance in a portfolio shuffle.

"Nobody foresaw this whole thing coming to a head, as fast as it did," Hickes said on Friday, in a reporter scrum.

When asked why he lost confidence in Quassa, Hickes offered a vague response, similar to the slim explanation Main gave in the legislature Thursday about Quassa's leadership style and integrity around the Northern Lights conference.

"It's very hard to quantify in a specific example — it wasn't one thing," said Hickes.

"I'll be honest, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Quassa … I have a lot of affection for him. This was not a personal vendetta," he said.

Hickes said that Quassa's leadership style didn't line up with what Quassa promised at last year's leadership forum.

The way it worked was that whatever the leader says was the only way to do it. That's what a leader was supposed to do, and it should be like that today.- Paul Quassa, former Nunavut premier

Hickes also brought up the discussion around the Northern Lights conference and the mixed messaging caucus received.

"There's nothing specific. I'm not sure what else to say," said Hickes.

Quassa said he, too, is questioning the reasons behind his unseating.

In response to Main's remark about his "autocratic style of leadership," Quassa referred to the Inuktitut word sivuliuqti, meaning leader.

"Sivuliuqti is the person that directs the rest of the ministers. For example, 'I think it's better if you do this, rather than that,'" said Quassa.

"Inuit used to have one leader back then in a small community. The way it worked was that whatever the leader says was the only way to do it. That's what a leader was supposed to do, and it should be like that today."

Quassa said he will focus on moving forward, but he said he hopes he will continue to see more Inuit in government jobs. He will serve his constituency of Aggu as a regular MLA for the rest of the term.

Joe Savikataaq became Nunavut's new premier after a vote in the legislature. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Premier Savikataaq told CBC on Friday that he got a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Everyone was under extreme stress yesterday morning. And like I told the outgoing premier that nobody won. It was just something that had to be done, and it was done," said Savikataaq.

With files from Jordan Konek and Sara Frizzell