Leona Aglukkaq admits reading newspaper was a 'bad idea' during question period

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says it was a bad idea to read the newspaper during question period, appearing insensitive to her constituents while opposition parties questioned the government about exorbitant food prices in the North.

'I do care,' environment minister says, after creating impression of indifference

Leona Aglukkaq says it was a 'very bad idea' to read a newspaper in question period while questions were raised about the troubled Nutrition North program. 0:58

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says it was a bad idea to read the newspaper during question period, appearing insensitive to her constituents while opposition parties questioned the government about exorbitant food prices in the North.

In an interview with CBC News, Aglukkaq said it was "a very bad idea to be reading the newspaper that day and I apologize to my constituents on that, because I think with the media perception and how it was portrayed — that I don't care — I do care."

​​"But it was a very bad idea to be reading the newspaper that day and I want to apologize to my constituents if that was portrayed as being that I don't care, because that is the complete opposite.

"And if I could do it differently, if I could take it back, I would have probably waited until question period was over to catch up on Nunavut news," Aglukkaq said on Wednesday.

Aglukkaq's apology comes two days after she was seen openly reading the newspaper during question period on Monday while she was under fire from the opposition parties over a food crisis in the North.

The auditor general in his fall report last week found the Conservatives' northern food subsidy program isn't working.

The Opposition New Democrats and federal Liberals wanted to know what she was doing about reports of a Nunavut elder rummaging through a dump for food.

Residents scavenging for food?

Aglukkaq told CBC News she's never heard of residents going through the garbage dump for food, which is why she called the senior administrative officer in Rankin Inlet.

"Well, I know I've seen and I have done this before too, where we go to the dump to look for parts, for our four-wheelers, our snow machines or our trucks and whatnot. 
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says she, too, has struggled with the high cost of living in the North. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"And you know when you are building a cabin you also go to the wood dump to find extra wood to build your cabin, because it is not like you can go to a Home Hardware store in our northern communities to find wood.

"But the story on the food part was very new to me, which is why I placed a phone call right away," she told CBC News.

Aglukkaq said it's not uncommon to see food that's expired go to the dump, but northerners rarely waste food.

"As a kid growing up, I can tell you that my parents taught me that you don't waste food. Food was scarce growing up as a kid, that is what we were taught, and to this day my mother is very strong about you can't waste food and she'll save food and so on," she said.

Miscommunication with mayor?

Rankin Inlet Deputy Mayor Sam Tutanuak claimed the minister demanded an apology for making disparaging remarks about the federal Nutrition North program.

As of Wednesday night's interview, Aglukkaq says she still has not spoken to anyone in the community office.

"I've spoken to no one except to leave a message, and I was really shocked. It's completely false," she said.

The mayor was out of town when the controversy started.  Robert Janes has now returned, and he's trying to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

He believes part of the problem is that Aglukkaq and the deputy mayor never spoke in person.

"They weren't talking to each other. They were talking at different times with a different person," he told CBC News on Wednesday night.

"I'd have to go back to my notes and say that a third party may have told him that she's demanding an apology. I think. And if you go back to the records, and papers and everything you may see that's how it comes out," he added.

With files from Susan Lunn

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.