OTTAWA – Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo, who cited an alcohol problem for leaving the Liberal caucus and cabinet earlier this year, apologized Wednesday for what he called a “consensual but inappropriate” relationship with an unidentified person.
Tootoo, who declared his return to politics late last month after a two-month hiatus to seek treatment for addiction, has been at the centre of persistent rumours that he had been involved with a staff member.
He acknowledged the relationship in a videotaped statement that was delivered at the CBC’s Iqaluit studios and posted to the broadcaster’s regional Facebook page.
“I let my judgment be clouded and I also let alcohol take over my life,” Tootoo said, reading from a portfolio on his lap.
“I am ashamed and I apologize to all involved, especially the people of Nunavut. I am deeply sorry.”
Tootoo said he informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on May 31 of the relationship, then promptly quit the party and checked himself into rehab.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office corroborated Tootoo’s version of events, noting that the MP “took full and sole responsibility for his inappropriate workplace conduct.”
Last week, Tootoo came under pressure from constituents and critics in his Nunavut riding for failing to disclose more details about his decision to step down and sit as an Independent.
Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern urged him to come forward and clear the air.
“It puts him – and it puts us – in an extremely difficult position,”Redfern said in an interview at the time. “We only have one member of Parliament.”
Redfern could not be immediately reached for comment, but a series of tweets sent in the wake of Tootoo’s announcement made it clear she’s paying attention.
Several tweets cited legal decisions that discussed consent as it pertains to relationships in the workplace. Added Redfern: “So unanswered question remains … who or how was this inappropriate?”
Tootoo, 52, declared in May he would be stepping down as fisheries minister and leaving the Liberal caucus before beginning a leave of absence to seek treatment for an alcohol problem.
That leave of absence ended July 27 when he invited local residents and journalists to his office in Iqaluit for a news conference and open house, billed as a chance for constituents to “address their concerns.”
“I know I let people down – my family, friends, and the people of this riding – and myself,” he said at the time. “I have work to do to regain their trust and respect. That work begins now.”
Nunavut _ a territory the size of western Europe – only has a single federal seat. It is the largest but least populous of all of Canada’s provinces and territories. It’s home to about 34,000 people, 84 per cent of them Inuit.
During his July 27 news conference, Tootoo attributed his drinking to “deeply personal and private issues,” saying he used alcohol as a coping mechanism. In his statement, Tootoo intimated it was the relationship to which he was referring.
“On May 31, I voluntarily informed the prime minister that I made a mistake and regrettably engaged in a consensual but inappropriate relationship,” Tootoo said.
“That is why I resigned my cabinet post and my position in caucus. I then checked myself into rehab for my addiction.”
He also said he would not name the other party in an effort to protect the person’s privacy.