Nunavut MLA mum about reasons for trying to remove Paul Quassa as premier

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main says he will introduce a motion to do this on Thursday.

MLA John Main to introduce non-confidence motion Thursday, former Nunavut premier says she's surprised

Paul Quassa was selected as premier last year. (Nunavut Department of Education)

Some Nunavut MLAs are trying to have Premier Paul Quassa removed from cabinet.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said he will introduce a motion to do this on Thursday.

Main is the chair of the regular members caucus and said, as chair, it was his role to introduce the non-confidence motion.

When asked by CBC why the motion is being introduced, he said: "It's a non-confidence motion and I think that should speak for itself."

Main would not give specifics, saying he couldn't speak for all 13 regular MLAs, as each of them could have their own opinions. But he added it was not introduced without prior consideration.

The motion will be seconded by Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak.

John Main is the Nunavut MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove and the chair of the regular members' caucus. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Anne Crawford, a lawyer who's held prominent positions in the government of Nunavut, said she expects there have been behind-the-scenes discussions between members and staff. Meaning the MLAs know why this is coming forward now—it just hasn't been made public yet.

"It's something that is always in the background, that the regular members outnumber the members of cabinet, so they can make this choice or make this motion, if they choose to," Crawford said. 

She noted that Main is a new member and could either have strong opinions of his own about the premier or have been convinced to front the motion by other members.

"As chair of caucus, one would assume that the matter was discussed during a caucus meeting," said Crawford.

"And that there was, if not a unanimous [decision], at least a consensus that it was the right thing to do because he emphasized that he wasn't doing it personally."

In the Nunavut Legislature, MLAs are required to give 48 hours notice before introducing a motion. On Thursday, the motion will be debated and MLAs will vote on it.

If they get a majority, it would mean Quassa would be removed from cabinet and also as premier.

A first in Nunavut

This has never happened to a premier in Nunavut, according to an official from the legislature.

There is no legislation governing the removal of a premier, but the convention in Nunavut's consensus-style government is that any member, at any time when the Legislative Assembly is sitting, may make a non-confidence motion. 

I was very surprised to hear the news this morning.- Former Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak

If Quassa is ousted, Thursday will be a long day. A new leadership forum will be triggered because Nunavut can't be without a leader.

Leadership forums are unique to the consensus-style governments in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories where there are no political parties. MLAs choose the Speaker, premier and cabinet ministers through a secret ballot.

This government currently has seven cabinet members, 13 regular members, a Speaker and premier. 

Quassa has been the premier for about seven months. He has recently faced several questions in the Legislature on spending for the Northern Lights Conference and the decision to pull out of the Grays Bay Road and Port Project

There has been one previous non-confidence vote for a member of cabinet in Nunavut's history. Jack Anawak was removed from cabinet and made a regular MLA during the first Legislative Assembly. 

Premier Paul Quassa has declined an interview request from CBC. 

Former premier 'surprised' by motion

Former Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said she was surprised to hear of the motion to remove Quassa.

Former Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak, seen here at the Western Premiers' Conference in Yellowknife in 2013. Aariak said she was surprised by the news of the non-confidence motion. (James Mackenzie/Canadian Press)

"I was very surprised to hear the news this morning," said Aariak. 

"He's focused a lot on Inuit culture and language and I hear from the regular people around town and other places that they're happy to hear that their culture and language [is] being supported at that level."

Aariak said she doesn't know what's driving the non-confidence motion, but mentioned recent government spending on the Northern Lights conference.

"I know there were complaints about the amount of money that was used to go down from Nunavut when there are so many priorities and so much need in the North, but ... those kinds of networking opportunities can leverage more money coming back in in the future," Aariak said.

With files from Nick Murray, Lucy Burke, Juanita Taylor