Nunavut's new premier-elect said she plans to get to work right away with her fellow MLAs to move the northern territory ahead over the next four years.
Iqaluit East MLA Eva Aariak was chosen as Nunavut's second premier by her peers on Friday. The first-time MLA, and the Nunavut legislative assembly's only woman, defeated incumbent Paul Okalik, who had led the territory since its creation in 1999.
"When it finally came, I was very much elated," Aariak told CBC News in an interview Monday, referring to the moment late Friday afternoon when she learned she had won the premier's job.
"I was glad that it was my name and a bit surprised, too. ... You don't know until the very bitter end what the results will be, so I was very delighted."
Aariak, along with six cabinet members and house Speaker James Arreak, will be sworn into their posts on Wednesday. They were all chosen by their fellow MLAs on Friday, a process that's part of Nunavut's consensus style of government.
Nunavummiut elected 18 MLAs in a territorial election on Oct. 27 and in a byelection earlier this month. A 19th MLA will be elected in the Akulliq constituency in another byelection scheduled for Dec. 15.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us, as we all know," Aariak said. "We just have to roll up our sleeves a little higher, I think, and go on with it."
Okalik, who lost his bid for a third mandate as premier, declined an opportunity to run for a cabinet post. He said he will now do his best to represent his constituents in Iqaluit West and offer his full support to the new premier.
"I want make sure there's [a] smooth transition," Okalik told CBC News late Friday. "I believe that we're here for the good of Nunavut, and I'll do whatever I can to help her out."
At the same time, Okalik said he'll only give Aariak advice if she asks: "I leave that up to her," he said. "People want change, and I don't want to taint the new administration with my own advice."
Openness and accountability to define new government, Aariak vows
Aariak, an Iqaluit store owner and Nunavut's former languages commissioner, said she decided to run for office last month because "everyone is talking about change."
"We have, as a Nunavut government, done a great job over the last several years ... starting from the beginning, establishing the government and developing the capacity of each department," she said, giving credit to Okalik for his work in developing the territory to date.
"Once the newly elected cabinet [ministers] and the members are settled down and ready to tackle on the responsibilities, we will be defining more as to what needs to be done," she added.
Aariak said her first priorities include settling into her new job, getting briefed on her responsibilities, hiring her immediate staff and assigning portfolios to her cabinet members.
All but one member of Aariak's cabinet are new to the executive council. (Louis Tapardjuk was finance minister in the last government.) Four members are also first-time MLAs, but Aariak said she believes they'll get support from their respective departments.
"I feel we have a dynamic group with these new MLAs that are out there," she said of her cabinet members.
"They all have their own specific background and skills that they brought forward with them, and I'm very much looking forward to working with them closely and go from there."
As for issues she wants to tackle, Aariak identified concerns she said she heard from many constituents.
"People are looking for openness and accountability and [a] two-way dialogue between the public and the government, and that is something that I will work very hard to realize," she said.
"People should be very free to approach their new MLAs. I'm sure they are anxious to hear more issues and questions and whatnot from their own respective communities."