Nunavut premier won't seek top job after election

IQALUIT, Nunavut – Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak, the territory’s second leader since its creation, has announced she will make way for its third.

Aariak says she will run in the upcoming territorial election, but she won’t allow her name to stand for premier when the elected members of the legislature meet to choose their leader in Nunavut’s consensus form of government.

“What an honour and privilege it has been, serving Nunavummiut as premier,” she said Thursday. “I have decided I will pass on the premiership to the next person after the election.”

Nunavut’s territorial election isn’t until Oct. 28.

But Aariak said campaigns are already starting up and she wanted to give potential candidates for the job time to think about it.

“It’s a big commitment,” she said. “I want people out there who are thinking about running as premier to have enough time.”

Aariak, 58, became premier in 2008. She took over from the territory’s first premier Paul Okalik, who governed since Nunavut’s founding in 1999.

Her administration has seen major policy initiatives around education and health. That included a territorial policy on suicide prevention, a major problem in Nunavut.

Her government has also extracted a promise from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to open negotiations on transferring control over Crown lands and resources to the territory.

Although the suicide policy hasn’t been fully implemented and the shape of those devolution talks have yet to be determined, Aariak said she felt it was time to go.

“I respect very much people who have been saying I should run again, but I have given my five years.”

She pointed out that because Nunavut premiers are chosen by elected members of the legislature, not voters, there’s no guarantee she would have remained in office even if she was successful in holding on to her Iqaluit East seat.

“Who knows who the next premier will be? Even if I were to have to say that I will be seeking premiership, no one knows whether I would get back in or not.

“Gauging my own personal life and other things, I decided this is the best decision at this time for me.”

Aariak said if she is successful in the election, she will focus more time on serving her constituents.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton