'I believe in the Trudeau government,' says Hunter Tootoo upon return to office

The decision to step down as a federal minister and leave the Liberal caucus was his alone, Hunter Tootoo said in Iqaluit this morning, adding: 'I believe in the Trudeau government.'

Nunavut MP addresses media for 1st time since resigning as fisheries minister

Hunter Tootoo talks about his struggle with alcohol addiction, his treatment, and his return to Ottawa as an independent MP for Nunavut. 1:48

The decision to step down as a federal minister and leave the Liberal caucus was his alone, says Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo.

He addressed the media and his constituents in Iqaluit Wednesday morning for the first time since resigning from cabinet in May to seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

"I have a lot of respect for the prime minister and I believe in the Trudeau government," he said.

Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo said he was glad to be finally home as he prepared to address media for the first time since stepping down from cabinet to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Tootoo was speaking to a full house at his constituency office in downtown Iqaluit.  

"The decision to step away was my own. I knew that I needed to devote all of my energy and attention into getting healthy."

Tootoo wouldn't say if there was any particular incident that forced him into rehab.

"I realized that I needed to do something and I needed help."

He added that he will continue to address his addiction issues by attending alcoholic anonymous meetings.  

He said he attended rehab in southern Canada but would not provide further details. He added lack of addiction treatment services in Nunavut is one of the many infrastructure challenges in the territory that need to be addressed.

'Stronger now'

Tootoo said he knows he has a long way to go before regaining the public's confidence.

Hunter Tootoo's small constituency office was crammed with constituents for his open house and media conference. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"I know I let people down, my family, friends, the people of this riding and myself. I have work to do to regain their trust and respect and that work starts now," said Tootoo.

"I'm much stronger now, I'm focused, I'm healthy and I'm ready to move forward."

He said he will be spending the remainder of the summer in Iqaluit to catch up on his duties as MP before returning to Ottawa in September.

Tootoo would not say if he is going to attempt to return to the Liberal caucus.

'I’m much stronger now, I’m focused, I’m healthy and I’m ready to move forward,' says Tootoo. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"Being an independent hasn't lessened my resolve to be a voice for Nunavut in Ottawa," he said.

He added he has full confidence that the Liberal Party will follow through on their campaign promises to the North and Indigenous people.

"I'll be there to ensure that they do, as well as raise any issues or concerns that Nunavummiut have in relation to that."

Tootoo said he has not been in communication with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since leaving caucus to attend rehab. He said he has been in touch with his colleagues in Ottawa.

Mathieu Dupont, chief of staff to the Chief Government Whip, told Radio-Canada in French "The doors are not closed. Time will tell," about Tootoo's potential return to caucus.

But the Prime Minister's Office says "We wish Mr. Tootoo well as he resumes his parliamentary functions as MP for Nunavut. His status with regard to the Liberal caucus remains unchanged."

'You believed in me'

Originally from Rankin Inlet, Tootoo is well known in the territory after serving three terms as an Iqaluit MLA in the Nunavut legislature. He became the second Inuk to be appointed as a senior federal cabinet minister after defeating Conservative Leona Aglukkaq in the 2015 federal election.

Many people dropped by Hunter Tootoo's office to shake his hand and welcome him back to Iqaluit. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

With his voice shaking, Tootoo expressed gratitude to those who helped him during his time in rehab.  

"I'm extremely, extremely grateful for the patience that you granted me during my healing," he said.

"You believed in me when I didn't believe in myself, those words of encouragement made all the difference for me in my recovery."

Tootoo said he turned to alcohol because he was dealing with personal issues.

"There are some deeply personal and private issues that have haunted me. Unfortunately alcohol was often a coping mechanism for trauma," said Tootoo.

"And that trauma far too common in our communities, I have personally been affected by those impacts."

This isn't the first time Tootoo has quit drinking, he said, adding he quit once for 13 years.

He said his uncle George Hickes, a former Manitoba MLA, has been a great help to him in dealing with his addiction.

Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo returns to politics 8:48

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 Louis Blouin