“Conspiracy” and “coup” are the words Paul Quassa chooses when he reflects on his removal from the highest office in the Government of Nunavut.
There were power-hungry cabinet ministers coveting the premier’s seat and MLAs thirsting for a cabinet position, and that’s what led to his downfall, he told Nunavut News.
“I knew there were some who want to be premier, (others) who wanted to become a minister so badly that they would do anything,” Quassa said.
“Certainly that was their ultimate goal is, ‘How can I get into these positions that I really want?’ We saw quite a few disgruntled members who weren’t elected to the executive council during the leadership forum.”
The 16-3 vote confirming his ouster on June 14 came without warning, according to Quassa.
“I believe there was a breach of confidentiality from some of the cabinet members to the regular members and therefore this motion (of removal) came about,” he said, adding that some of those allegedly doing the plotting sowed the idea of a lack of solidarity among the executive. “Even my cabinet members, not once did they tell me of any of these things… not once did they tell me that they’re dissatisfied or anything… I was always open, and that’s how a leader should be.
“I feel sorry for those who started talking behind our backs and saying, ‘We’re going to get this person out without even consulting their constituents…’ It’s not the Inuit way.”
In the seven months he was premier, Quassa said there’s no decisions he would have changed.
“It’s unfortunate. We were just starting and this thing comes about and disrupts the whole vision of Nunavut,” he said. “I don’t believe I did anything wrong, I certainly didn’t. Certainly I didn’t do anything criminal… nothing to oust a premier.”
Responding to criticism
The territorial government recently faced strong criticism over $572,000 to attend the Northern Lights Trade Show and Conference in Ottawa in February. Quassa countered that all spending was approved by the legislative branch, and conference attendance was aimed at building business within Nunavut.
Another point of contention was the GN’s decision to stop seeking federal funding for the $550-million Grays Bay road and port project, which would boost mining in the territory. Because the GN would be responsible to provide a portion of project funding, the government decided to address other needs.
“I’ve always said we haven’t abandoned (Grays Bay). It was a matter of prioritizing other things first,” Quassa said. “At the end of the day, it’s the federal government who decides where the money is going to go. This time around, the federal government decided it was going to go elsewhere, besides Grays Bay.”
Fighting for Inuit language and culture
The former premier made no apologies for his strong stance on promoting Inuit culture and language, such as making Inuktut-language training mandatory for bureaucrats.
“I always say we have to make a bold move,” he said. “In the first place, who voted to create Nunavut? It was the Inuit, nobody else. The Nunavut government is very much part of the Nunavut land claims. Our vision was, at that time, to have a Nunavut government that speaks Inuktitut, a Nunavut government that respects and enhances Inuit culture.”
Changes to government are required to ensure there’s no repeat of another premier being unceremoniously deposed, Quassa said. He suggested that issue may partly be solved by having Nunavummiut vote for the government leader rather than having the legislative assembly choose the premier.
Not about to quit
Although the week following his removal from the premier’s office has been “very emotional” for him, his family and other Nunavummiut who have contacted to offer their support, Quassa said he fully intends to serve the remainder of his term as Aggu MLA, representing constituents in Iglulik.
“I was voted to sit in the legislative assembly for four years and I’m not going to cut that short,” he said.
“I’m not going to just sit in a corner and stay there. I was elected to represent my constituents and Nunavutmiut interests and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s not going to stop me… We can survive. The Inuit have survived for thousands of years and we still can.”