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Another vote for change
Rankin Inlet South voters choose Sammurtok for next MLA, vote out former minister

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 17, 2014

Following a territorial election that saw five would-be returning MLAs unseated, the voters of Rankin Inlet South have had their final say and will send a political newcomer, Alexander Sammurtok, to the legislative assembly to represent them in Nunavut's fourth government.

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Alexander Sammurtok was selected by a majority of Rankin Inlet South voters on Feb. 10 to represent them in the fourth territorial legislative assembly. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

In a byelection held Feb. 10, roughly 80 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, giving Sammurtok a decisive victory over his incumbent opponent, former cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak, by a final tally of 268 votes to 225.

"It feels great. I'm really happy for the people that elected me," said Sammurtok, who was at home Feb. 10 with his family when he received a phone call to tell him Kusugak had taken to the airwaves to congratulate him on the win.

"The people wanted some change. I was trying to indicate that I'm a down-to-earth person, that I will speak out for them."

The 61-year-old former plumber decided to throw his name into the hat to participate in Nunavut's political arena after retiring last year.

Although he was born in Chesterfield Inlet, Sammurtok has long considered Rankin his home and thought he would use his newfound free time to give back to the people of his community.

"I left (Chesterfield Inlet) at the tender age of 16 and have been on and off in Rankin since then, so I always figured Rankin as my home town," he said.

He ran on a platform that included two main issues - providing 24-hour home care for Rankin residents, and creating more on-the-job training programs for educated young people with little or no work experience.

"For the younger generation, I really stressed that there should be on-the-job training. There are a lot of younger generations now that are out of high school or out of college of some sort," he said.

Despite their education, when those young people turn to the workforce, they tend to have difficulty finding work.

"When they're asked that question, 'Do you have any work experience?' They have to say no," said Sammurtok.

Having so many young people out of work is having a big effect on the community because the unemployed depend on their parents and grandparents for basic survival, he said.

"That's not right. And that's why I think a lot of them turn to alcohol and drugs," he said.

The solution? More on-the-job training programs to give people the experience they need to get their foot in the door.

Going door-to-door prompted Sammurtok to add another goal to his list - fixing some of the issues with medical travel by creating somewhere for patients to stay while they're in Rankin for treatment.

"I've seen a lot of medical travel patients come here for a checkup or for medical issues, and they're either waiting at the stores or walking the streets if the weather is nice," he said. "I'd like to see a service centre for the surrounding communities, for the people who come in for medical attention. They ought to have a place to stay, whether it's for a few days or a few hours."

A tie in the general byelection means Sammurtok is the last of Nunavut's 22 MLAs to earn a seat in the legislative assembly.

Because he was elected more than three months after the general election, Sammurtok did not have a chance to be considered for cabinet or premier, something that he said he had no intentions of doing.

"I believe being a regular MLA, you can represent your voters a lot better," he said.

This could have been one of the deciding issues for voters, since Kusugak held the portfolios for Community and Government Services, Energy and Qulliq Energy Corporation in the last cabinet.

Sammurtok now joins five other MLAs - David Joanasie, George Hickes, Johnny Mike, Steve Mapsalak and Isaac Shooyook - who unseated incumbents in their respective ridings.

For Sammurtok, this is an indication that the people of Nunavut want to be better represented in their own government.

"I believe the previous government was, um, they probably weren't representing the people of Nunavut," he said. "They want it back to be representative of the people and this is their way of doing it."

- with files from Myles Dolphin

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