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500 and counting
Hunter Tootoo has sat through all formal sittings of the legislative assembly since division

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 14, 2012

The faces have changed, the questions and issues raised are different, but in the 13 years and 500 sittings, and counting, of the legislative assembly, one person remains - Hunter Tootoo.

NNSL photo/graphic

Hunter Tootoo, speaker of the legislative assembly, is the only MLA to have sat through all 500 formal sittings, and counting, of the legislature since division. - Jeanne Gagnon/NNSL photo

Tootoo, now the speaker of the legislature, has learned, through all the sittings he participated in, to listen, to not overreact and to have a sense of humour.

The legislative assembly marked the historic milestone on June 6.

Tootoo's fondest memory was the legislature's first sitting on April 1, 1999, when they were sworn in at the Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, where the legislature met before the construction of the assembly building. He never thought he would last 500 sittings.

"I'll never forget the honour, the pride being there and being part of that historic day," he said."When I looked at that and realized it was 500, I said 'Holy smokes.' It doesn't seem like it's been that long. It seem to have gone by very quickly."

Not all of Tootoo's memories are fond, however, as he remarked during his statement at the legislature on June 6 to mark the occasion. He wouldn't specify an incident or anyone but did say sometimes people take things personally.

"For the most part, people walk over there and work is work. We all have a job to do," he said. "There has been cases where it seem to get personal."

A native of Rankin Inlet, Tootoo has represented Iqaluit Centre since 1999, first as a regular member then as a cabinet minister in 2008 and eventually speaker. He said he has learned to listen very carefully to what people say during his 13 years in the assembly.

"It changed me a lot. I think over the years, I used to, maybe, sometimes overreact on some things," said Tootoo. "I've learned to be a lot more strategic in my thinking and planning if you are really going to be able to articulate what you want to say and get it across so it's clear."

Tootoo was first elected to Nunavut's legislative assembly in February 1999 and was re-elected in both February 2004 and October 2008. He has served as minister of education, human resources, as well as minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, Nunavut Arctic College, homelessness and Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission. He became the speaker in May 2011.

He said his preferred seat was as a regular member, citing the freedom of speech it provides.

"It's been a very rewarding experience," he said. "Even after all these years, whether I was speaking as a regular member, doing a statement, asking a question, there was a minister (that had to) answer a question. Even sitting in the speaker's chair right now, I get nervous."

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