(Hunter Tootoo at Rideau Hall after being sworn in as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast guard last fall)
APTN National News
OTTAWA — His departure was abrupt and few details came from either the man leaving or his boss.
Early last evening a curt news release was sent from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.
“Mr. Tootoo will be taking time to seek treatment for addiction issues,” said Trudeau in a statement.
Today, Trudeau had little more to add.
In a surprise comment before the start of a meeting of the Liberal caucus, Trudeau stepped out in front of the cameras.
“He resigned to seek treatment for addiction issues. It was his own choice. I have nothing further to say on this matter,” Trudeau told the media, turned and walked away.
Tootoo hasn’t filled in any details, but said in his own statement he resigned in order not to be a distraction.
“I have decided to seek treatment for addiction issues and ask for privacy at this time,” he said in a statement released Tuesday.
The nature of his addiction was not specified.
Tootoo will now sit as an independent and the needs of his constituents will be handled by his office staff for the time being. It is not clear how long he will be off work.
In October, Tootoo defeated incumbent Conservative Leona Aglukkaq to become the Member of Parliament for Nunavut and the first northerner to take on the role of fisheries minister.
The announcement about Tootoo’s troubles drew words of support from former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who tweeted: “Wish him well in his battle.”
And Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler also took to Twitter to offer support for Tootoo on behalf of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario: “sending prayers and support to Hunter Tootoo as he seeks healing.”
Tootoo was born in Rankin Inlet in 1963 and immediately had to fight for his life.
“I was medevaced (airlifted) out,” Tootoo told The Canadian Press in an interview last year.
“I was in an incubator for the first three months of my life, so I am told.”
After overcoming this struggle, Tootoo went on to live in various parts of Canada, including Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan before making his way back to the North in the early 1990s.
The 52-year-old was first elected as the MLA for Iqaluit Centre in 1999, where he served for 14 years and was the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly until 2013. He also held a number of cabinet positions in the territorial government.
In November, a month after Tootoo defeated former Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq to claim the federal riding of Nunavut, he said in an interview he hoped to transfer his political experience to a national scale.
“I think that it is going to be very beneficial to me as we move forward,” he told The Canadian Press.
Tootoo is related to NHL player Jordin Tootoo, a forward for the New Jersey Devils, but he has been quick to quash the idea he may share some of the hockey skills honed by his cousin.
“I watch hockey,” he said in the interview. “The only sport I do is curling.”
Tootoo isn’t the first Liberal MP in this government to seek help for addiction problems.
In January, rookie Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan announced he was back to work after getting help for a drinking problem.
Trudeau said Dominic Leblanc will be assuming the role of minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in addition to being Government House Leader.
— with files from The Canadian Press