Paul Okalik 'could not just sit there and accept' beer store in Iqaluit
Okalik says cabinet has decided to open beer and wine store in Iqaluit next year
Nunavut MLA and former justice and health minister Paul Okalik says he's felt a lot of support and understanding since he made the "difficult decision" to resign from cabinet.
On Thursday, the well-known politician — who served as the first premier of Nunavut — announced that he was leaving the executive council on a matter of principle.
Okalik says he "could not just sit there and accept" cabinet's decision to move forward with opening a beer and wine store in Iqaluit when the territory has no alcohol treatment centre.
"I have won and lost many issues in cabinet," he said. "But on this one it was very difficult because it impacted on my work in terms of trying to provide more programming support for those who are living with addictions in our territory."
Earlier this week, Nunavut's finance minister said the project still had no timeline for the opening of the store, which would sell beer and wine but no hard liquor.
But on CBC Qulliq this morning, Okalik said the government has decided to open a store next year.
'I appreciate the support and understanding'
In the house Thursday, MLAs who sit across the aisle from cabinet members watched in surprise as Okalik made an impassioned speech calling for more addictions support, drawing on his own personal struggle as a recovering alcoholic.
Since then, Okalik said he's received a lot of encouragement.
"I appreciate the support and understanding," he said. "I will work with my colleagues and try and address and try and tackle the challenges that we face everyday."
While Okalik has championed the idea of an addictions treatment centre, he has also been at the helm of some other significant files.
1st minister responsible for suicide prevention
In November, after the conclusion of a two-week coroner's inquest looking at Nunavut's high rate of suicide, he was appointed the first-ever minister responsible for suicide prevention.
"It was a very difficult file, but I think we've made some progress and will continue to make progress," he said.
"We put together a plan and we got that approved through cabinet," he said. "It's just a matter of going through the process of presenting to the house."
This Monday, the government is set to announce a suicide prevention action plan.
Corrections woes will continue
Okalik has also been in charge of the Nunavut's justice department, including the territory's correctional facilities.
Last year, the Auditor General of Canada issued a scathing report about the state of the Baffin Correctional Centre — plagued by overcrowded cells and walls so thin you can literally punch a hole through them.
"It is one file that is never ending, so it will continue to be a challenge for any minister," Okalik said.
"There's some good work happening like the Rankin Inlet and Kugluktuk facilities are functioning well and the women's jail here is under new management so it's making progress."
Some people have already taken to social media to question whether or not Okalik's decision to leave cabinet means for the rest of his political career.
Beyond his history in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, Okalik had a failed bid at taking Nunavut's seat on Parliament Hill.
"That's not my decision to make at this time because I'm continuing to serve and we have another year and a half of governing," Okalik said coyly about his political future.
"We'll see what progress we can make."