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Quassa replaced as Nunavut premier after non-confidence vote just 7 months into the job

Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut’s MLA for Arviat South, is the new Premier of the territory following a vote of non-confidence that ousted Paul Quassa from office just seven months into the job.

Mr. Savikataaq, who has served in cabinet and as deputy premier, said Thursday he was excited about the opportunity.

“I want to thank each one of you that voted,” he said in the House immediately following the leadership vote. “I will work with all of you – I will work with cabinet, with the MLAs and with everyone else so that … we can get to where we want to be in Nunavut. This is a new page in my life, a new page in my political career and I will work my hardest and I will do my best.”

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Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main introduced the non-confidence motion that led to Mr. Quassa’s ouster on Thursday. He did not cite specific reasons for doing so but instead criticized Mr. Quassa’s leadership style.

“There’s not been a lot of team effort among the members under this Premier,” Mr. Main said. “There’s been a tendency to an autocratic style of leading, which clashes with our consensus style of government.”

The Nunavut legislature is based on consensus, not political parties, and the premier is chosen by a vote of the members of the legislative assembly.

That means when a premier loses the confidence of the House, the government does not fall. But the MLAs cannot conduct any other business until the new premier is chosen in a leadership forum, because the seat cannot be left vacant.

Of 22 members in the legislature, 16 voted to have Mr. Quassa removed. Mr. Quassa and two others voted against the motion and two members abstained. The speaker does not vote.

Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford, who served as Nunavut’s first cabinet secretary, said the MLAs used their legitimate authority to force Mr. Quassa out of the premier’s seat – but she said there was scant explanation to the public about the reasons.

“What everyone knows is what the members stated in the House and they didn’t give us a lot of substance or detail.”

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Without a substantive report or audit setting out the cause of concern, the MLAs actions were based only on the information in an access-to-information file on the former premier’s conference travel.

“That is exceptional,” she said. “Because members always have the ability to do this, stability and continuity in government is a legitimate issue. I’m sure all of these members are going back to their communities now; there will be extensive dialogue. They will have to justify to their constituents the move they have made.”

Mr. Quassa has received criticism during his seven months as premier for spending more than $500,000 to send about 80 people – including himself, seven ministers and dozens of support staff – to the Northern Lights Conference, a four-day trade show that showcases business and culture in the Arctic and North, that took place in early February in Ottawa.

A veteran of the legislature, Manitok Thompson, who retired in 2004, said Thursday’s vote of non-confidence marked the first time in the 19 years of the Nunavut government that party-style politics triumphed over a system that was designed for consensus.

“I see another level of governance happened in Nunavut today,” she said in an interview from Ottawa. “I think it is a good thing.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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