Hunter Tootoo celebrates Liberal win in Nunavut

"It feels great," said Hunter Tootoo, surrounded by boisterous red-clad Liberal supporters at Iqaluit's Elks Lodge where he held his election night party. "Just feel like, wow, I'm excited."

'We've been waiting for change for a long, long time,' says Tootoo support Pitseolak Alainga

Nunavut's Hunter Tootoo poses for a red selfie with supporters gathered in Iqaluit on Oct. 19. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Liberal party's Hunter Tootoo will be Nunavut's next MP, after unseating Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq. 

Tootoo had captured almost half of the votes, with just five out of 61 polls yet to report. He was followed by the NDP's Jack Anawak with 28.6 per cent out of 11,147 ballots counted. Aglukkaq was in third place with 23 per cent. 

"It feels great," said Hunter Tootoo, surrounded by boisterous red-clad Liberal supporters at Iqaluit's Elks Lodge where he held his election night party. "Just feel like, wow, I'm excited."

Tootoo's supporters were all smiles as the Liberal wave flooded across the country. 

"Time for a change," said Pitseolik Alainga, a Liberal supporter. "We've been waiting for change for a long, long time." 

Tootoo said his first order of business will be to tackle the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy program.

"That effects everyone across the territory," said Tootoo. "Try to make some improvements through the review and expansion of that as quickly as possible."

Surprise return to politics

Tootoo made a surprise re-emergence in politics almost two years after announcing he wouldn't seek a fourth term as an MLA in Nunavut's 2013 general election.

For some, his candidacy as a Liberal came as an additional surprise. In 1997, he ran for the federal NDP in the riding of Nunatsiaq, a predecessor to the Nunavut riding. He finished third in that election, losing to Conservative runner-up Okalik Eegeesiak and Liberal winner Nancy Karetak-Lindell.

As the MLA for Iqaluit Centre from 1999 to 2008, Tootoo was well-known for his vocal criticism of cabinet. In 2008, he was appointed to cabinet, where he held several portfolios before becoming Speaker of the House in 2011.

Tootoo joined Canadian North after leaving federal politics. He was appointed chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission in January this past year.

As a unilingual candidate running in a bi-lingual riding, many believed that Tootoo's inability to communicate directly with Inuktitut speakers would be a severe disadvantage against Aglukkaq and Anawak who are both bi-lingual candidates.  

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited Iqaluit as part of his campaign earlier this month. He used that visit to stress his party's commitments to the North including addressing the high cost of living in the region.

Liberal promises for the North

The Liberals have promised to add $40 million to the Nutrition North food subsidy program over the next four years and to work with Northern and remote communities to ensure the program is effective and transparent.

The party has also made promises to increase the Northern Residents Deduction by 33 per cent and index the benefits to keep pace with inflation. The indexed rate would be higher than the Canadian average — which is about one per cent per year.