MP Hunter Tootoo’s future unclear as he returns to work

OTTAWA – Hunter Tootoo revealed Wednesday he was working through “deeply personal and private issues” over the course of the two months he spent away from his role as a federal MP while undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction.

Tootoo, a former Liberal who represents the northern riding of Nunavut, summoned journalists to his Iqaluit office for his first public appearance since abruptly quitting Justin Trudeau’s caucus and cabinet at the end of May.

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READ MORE: MP Hunter Tootoo resigns as Fisheries minister, leaving Liberal caucus

He said he’s well aware there are “all kinds of rumours” about what prompted his decision to leave, although he refused to elaborate or discuss in any detail the circumstances of his departure.

“That’s politics,” Tootoo said in a phone interview. “I know what I’m dealing with … I needed to seek help and that’s exactly what I did.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Tootoo described how he used alcohol, which has long posed challenges to a number of his family members, as a coping mechanism for trauma.

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“I have personally been affected by those impacts,” Tootoo said as he thanked friends, family and supporters for their words of encouragement during his recovery.

“I am extremely grateful for the patience you have granted me during my healing,” he said.

“I know I let people down — my family, friends, and the people of this riding — and myself. I have work to do to regain their trust and respect. That work begins now.”

Tootoo echoed the prime minister’s insistence two months ago that the decision to leave caucus and resign his post as fisheries minister was his and his alone.

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However, while wishing him well in his return to work, the Prime Minister’s Office suggested Wednesday it’s unlikely Tootoo will be invited to return to the caucus fold any time soon.

“His status with regard to the Liberal caucus remains unchanged,” spokesman Cameron Ahmad said in a statement.

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc, who assumed Tootoo’s responsibilities on the fisheries file, has since juggled both roles, fuelling speculation about the need for cabinet changes.

It would be a tremendous loss to the territory if Tootoo is not welcomed back by the government, said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern.

Many northerners were proud and excited when Tootoo was elected as a Liberal MP and later named to Trudeau’s cabinet, she said. As an Independent, he would not have access to a party network and the research support it affords, she noted.

“It is important when you’re in a territory with only one member of Parliament to have an effective MP who has access to the government in power, who has access to ministers and the senior bureaucracy, the decision-makers,” Redfern told .

Redfern admitted she is struggling to understand why it was necessary for Tootoo to resign from caucus.

“There was no need for another MP (Liberal Seamus O’Regan), who sought treatment earlier on, to resign from caucus,” she said.

“It leaves open the question of whether or not he will be able to return.”