'Hunter Tootoo Resign!' petition wants to force Nunavut MP's hand

Frustrated with their inability to ask for a recall, some Nunavut residents are signing a petition asking for Hunter Tootoo to resign from the territory's only seat in the House of Commons.

‘Our MP is no longer able to represent us in government'

Frustrated with their inability to ask for a recall, some Nunavut residents are signing a petition asking for Hunter Tootoo to resign from the territory's only seat in the House of Commons. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Some Nunavut residents are signing a petition asking for Hunter Tootoo to resign from the territory's only seat in the House of Commons.

"Our MP is no longer able to represent us in government," says Iqaluit resident Taha Tabish, one of about 90 people who have signed the petition so far. 

With no formal recall process, Tabish says there's little else that Nunavummiut like him can do to express their dissatisfaction.  

"It's our only seat at the table. That seat used to be within government, that seat used to be within cabinet, and now it's not."

The former fisheries minister resigned from the Liberal caucus in May to seek treatment for addictions. He later revealed he'd been involved in an inappropriate workplace relationship. He returned to his post in August as an independent, stating that he has no plans to resign.

Igloolik's Lazarie Ugtak also signed the petition. 

"He'll just be a backbencher warming a seat," says Ugtak.

For Lucy Tulugarjuk, an Inuk actress from Igloolik, the problem is Tootoo's involvement in an inappropriate relationship.

"Representing people in the government is a big role," says Tulugarjuk. "It should not be played [with]."

Iqaluit's Andrew Morrison says he created the petition to reflect the anger felt by many people in his social circles.

"I don't think there's a way to win back trust. Unless we call a byelection and Hunter wants to run as an independent," says Morrison.

"Let the people choose what the next steps are."

'I don't blame them for being upset,' Tootoo says

When Tootoo first returned to Iqaluit following rehab, many welcomed him with open arms, expressing support for his recovery. But that was before Tootoo admitted to, and apologized for, a "consensual but inappropriate" workplace relationship.

Tootoo said he is doing his best to win back public support. 

"I don't blame them for being upset. I let them down," he said in an interview with CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge for The National.

"I need to prove myself that I am that person that the prime minister put trust in, I am the person that the people that elected me put their trust in to be able to represent them and bring forward their issues."

Petition carries no legal weight

An expert says there's a limit to what a petition like this can achieve. 

"At the federal level, there really is no necessary impact of a petition, no matter how many signatures it has, on whether or not someone can sit in Parliament," says Carleton University political science professor Scott Bennett.

If hundreds of thousands of people sign such a petition, Bennett said, it's conceivable for the government to respond with a symbolic gesture, such as censuring — essentially, reprimanding — Tootoo for his actions. 

"Once you're elected, the party can push you out of the caucus you were in, but it's very difficult to actually lose your seat unless you actually resign."

To really give voters power in situations like this, Bennett said, Canada should consider implementing recall legislation.

The Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council has suggested Trudeau implement a tougher code of conduct for MPs that would require them to step down if they engage in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. 

Bennett is skeptical that Parliament, which allots a great deal of power to its members, would allow for disciplinary measures to be created that could kick out an elected MP. 

Small numbers

So far, fewer than 100 people have signed the petition — a small number, even for a territory as scarcely populated as Nunavut.

Bennett, who specializes in public opinion and survey research, says that's not surprising in a region like Nunavut that's highly dependent on the public sector and government. 

"People don't want to create waves with other people who might know them and have different views." 

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

with files from John Van Dusen