Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak to join Nunavut cabinet

Craig Simailak is the newest MLA to join Nunavut’s executive council after Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone resigned from cabinet following a report that found him in a conflict of interest. "This is all very surreal," Simailak told colleagues.

Simailak replaces minister who resigned over conflict of interest

Craig Simailak will be the newest MLA to join Nunavut’s cabinet after Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone resigned following a report that found him in a conflict of interest. 'This is all very surreal,' Simailak told colleagues. (Elections Nunavut)

Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak will be the newest MLA to join Nunavut's cabinet after Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone resigned following a report that found him in a conflict of interest. 

Simailak was elected to the executive council by his peers Wednesday in a special leadership forum. 

"This is all very surreal," he told colleagues. "I will be using what I have learned since I became MLA going forward as a minister." 

Simailak won the seat over Aivilik MLA Solomon Malliki and Arviat South MLA and former premier Joe Savikataaq, who were both nominated by their colleagues for the seat. Iqaluit MLAs George Hickes and Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster were also nominated for the position, but declined the offer. 

Simailak was the sole nominee to present a platform during his speech to colleagues ahead of the vote. 

He said his top priority would be bringing elder care close to home, followed by attention to Nunavut Arctic College's community learning centres.

Simailak also said he is aware of many people working in mines who are paid good salaries but are unable to purchase their own homes, and suggested the territory's home ownership program needed tweaking. 

20 years at energy corporation

Simailak emphasized his 20 years of experience working with Qulliq Energy Corp. (QEC), a job that he said took him all over Nunavut. 

"I have seen many things in my travels. I have always tried to look at our territory as a whole," he said.

During that time, he worked on the Inuit employment and planning committee and said he was "very proud" to have helped make changes that led to more Inuit working for QEC. 

Simailak has also served as mayor of Baker Lake, hamlet councillor, and as a member of the Baker Lake Housing Association. He sat on the community liaison committee for Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. when it opened the Meadowbank gold mine, and on a similar committee for Areva Resources when it was exploring for uranium near the community.

In addition, he has volunteered with minor hockey and the local search and rescue committee. 

An apology

Arreak Lightstone stepped aside from his cabinet portfolios last month, after Nunavut's integrity commissioner found he was in a conflict of interest when he appointed his spouse as an acting deputy minister of the department he held responsibility for.

In a speech to the legislative assembly Wednesday, Arreak Lightstone apologized but said he did not act unethically.

Adam Arreak Lightstone stepped down from cabinet after Nunavut's integrity commissioner ruled that appointing his spouse as an acting deputy minister of the department he held responsibility for was a conflict of interest. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

"I think the integrity commissioner's report speaks for itself. As it states, I did not take advantage of my position," he said.

Katherine R. Peterson found that Arreak Lightstone acted in good faith, but failed to "give thoughtful and timely consideration" of the possible conflicts, or to seek advice on the issue. 

At the time, Arreak Lightstone held the portfolios for finance and human resources. 

In mid-December he appointed his spouse to briefly fill in as the acting deputy minister of the department while the deputy minister took vacation over the Christmas holidays.

In her report, Peterson wrote that the proposed appointment did not pass "the smell test." 

'A shameful attack'

Lightstone said he did not request that his spouse be appointed, but the current deputy minister recommended his wife fill the role while the minister went on vacation.

"There is no substance to the allegations that I behaved unethically," Lightstone said. "In hindsight, I recognize that I
should have sought the advice of the integrity commissioner."

He criticized fellow legislature members for bringing his spouse into the spotlight, calling it a "shameful attack on a dedicated public servant" that "is beneath the dignity of this assembly."

"After all she has done for our government, members of this legislature have brought her into the public area and questioned her integrity as well as mine," he said.

"It is obvious that there are members who hold a grudge against me."

Arreak Lightstone will now sit as the regular MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak.

It will be up to Premier P.J. Akeeagok to assign Simailak his portfolios. 

By Sara Minogue with files from the Canadian Press