Skip to main content

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo has resigned from cabinet and is leaving the Liberal caucus to seek treatment for addiction issues, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Tuesday.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Hunter Tootoo suddenly resigned as fisheries minister Tuesday evening after informing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he had lost control over his drinking and needed treatment for alcohol abuse.

A source said Mr. Tootoo, who also left the Liberal caucus, was assured by the Prime Minister that he could return to cabinet once his treatment is completed.

"He just decided that he needed help. He had to admit it and he went and told the boss," a close confidant of Mr. Tootoo told The Globe and Mail. "It is the kind of thing where people make a judgment of themselves. It happens in life and it will happen to others again in Parliament."

The friend said there was no intervention from either Mr. Tootoo's family or the Prime Minister's Office. Another source said Mr Tootoo was talked into getting treatment.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trudeau said Mr. Tootoo left cabinet of his own accord.

"As was announced yesterday, Hunter Tootoo has left the Liberal caucus and resigned from cabinet to seek treatment for addiction issues. This was his own choice after a very difficult situation. We will have nothing further to say on this matter," Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. He did not take questions.

Mr. Tootoo is the first minister to resign from Mr. Trudeau's cabinet. The Prime Minister announced that Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc will assume the duties as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Close friends of the newly elected MP from Nunavut say Mr. Tootoo's family had seen a problem with his drinking escalating recently and were concerned.

Mr. Tootoo, 53, had been drinking heavily at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg, but one friend said, "he was never stumbling, or anything like that."

Mr. Tootoo issued a statement, saying: "I have decided to seek treatment for addiction issues and ask for privacy at this time."

He attended cabinet meetings Monday night and Tuesday morning. He also attended Question Period.

Many cabinet ministers and MPs – as in life – have had to seek help for alcohol abuse, but very few are willing to publicly disclose their drinking problems.

Newly elected Newfoundland MP Seamus O'Regan, the former host of CTV's Canada AM, announced shortly after the election that he was going into a treatment centre for alcoholism.

In 2012, NDP MP Romeo Saganash sought treatment after he was kept off an Air Canada flight between Montreal and Val-d'Or. He spoke openly about his treatment and was re-elected last fall.

John McCallum, now Immigration Minister, also went into treatment after media reports in 2002 that he was denied boarding on an Air Canada flight to Ottawa.

Returning to work for those who have quit drinking poses problems because Parliament's work schedule is built around cocktail receptions. MPs whose ridings are outside Ottawa often go out for drinks and dinner as a form of companionship.

Mr. Tootoo was one of 10 indigenous MPs elected last year. He is a former speaker and 14-year veteran of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly. He was also an executive at Canadian North airlines and the chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission.

An Inuk who was born in Rankin Inlet, he beat out former Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq in the 2015 election.

In an interview with The Globe last October, Mr. Tootoo said his disillusionment with the policies of the former Conservative government persuaded him to run.

He ran federally for the NDP in 1997, but chose to join the Liberals after initially resisting a return to politics because he believed Mr. Trudeau offered the best commitments for people of the North.

He said Mr. Trudeau personally called him last March. "Dealing with the federal government and seeing what they were doing, I just couldn't sit back and watch it continue without trying to do something about it," he said at the time.

With a report from Gloria Galloway

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the authors of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe