Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called “The Ministers”.
Wearing his territory’s red and yellow and his usual bright smile, Hunter Tootoo strolls into the arena at Landsdowne park in Ottawa.
It’s 7 a.m but the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard has already been awake for two hours preparing for the work day and preparing to meet up with his old curling buddies, who secured Team Nunavut’s first ever appearance at the Brier championship.
Tootoo came to Ottawa as a politician in October of 2015, but his road to the capital nearly came through the sport he grew up playing.
The 52-year old represented the territory of Nunavut several times as a curler and he says politics and curling can both be slippery sports.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” explained Tootoo. “It’s very challenging not only physically but mentally as well, you gotta think ahead. It’s like playing chess.”
Tootoo takes that methodical approach managing his portfolio.
Every morning, the early-riser reads voraciously making sure he knows what’s happening on all three coasts. As the first minister from a Northern community to head the Dept. of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Tootoo believes he has a distinct advantage.
“From my coast, I see both other coasts,” he said.
One of Tootoo’s first acts as minister was to announce the reopening of the Kitilano Coast Guard facility.
The federal budget, released last week, has earmarked $23.6 million dollars over the next five years to enhance its marine emergency response capacity.
While watching over all coasts, Tootoo hopes to bring special attention to the people of Nunavut.
Part of that is promoting the annual seal hunt, which helps the territory’s economy and is a rich part of the peoples history.
Tootoo proudly wears a seal skin tie everywhere he goes, even when he went to the White House as part of the Canadian delegation for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s official visit to the United States earlier this month.
As a member of Nunavut Legislative Assembly, Tootoo fought the European ban on the export of Canadian seal products and he believes the American Marine Mammal protection act hurts northern communities.
“Those are things that really hurt Inuit in the North being able to earn a living through sustainable harvest of seal,” he said.
Still, Tootoo understands the biggest hurdle is the image of the seal hunt being a brutal slaying of wide-eyed seal pups.
“Canadians haven’t harvested, commercially, seal pups in I think 30 years. And yet, that’s the image that’s still being used out there against it.”
Tootoo hopes by educating people about the industry, it will encourage people to buy the products and boost the economy of Northern communities.
Remote communities need that boost because of the funding gaps and lack of opportunity as a result of distance from the rest of the country.
“Over the years the way funding has been doled out is traditionally on a per capita basis,” said Tootoo. “We all know that doesn’t work in the North.”
The Liberals are addressing the funding gaps of the past setting aside $8.4 billion for Indigenous communities.
Another major concern for the North is the environment.
“The effects of climate change are hitting the North twice as fast as the rest of Canada,” Tootoo told Global News.
As the proverbial canary in the coal mine, Tootoo believes the Liberal commitment to reinvest in ocean science will be a key part of tracking the impacts of climate change.
While Tootoo has some serious issues on his plate, he always seems to have a smile on his face and a joke ready to lighten the mood.
On a recent visit to an aboriginal school in Ottawa, Tootoo quipped the space between Government and Opposition parties in the House of Commons is traditionally two sword lengths.
“So that in the old days they couldn’t get at each other with a sword.
Tootoo firmly believes in keeping that sense of humour while doing such serious business.
“In this line of work, you have to have a sense of humour or else they’re going to take you out in a straight jacket, right?”
WATCH: More stories from Global National’s ‘The Ministers’ series