OTTAWA — Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo has stepped down from cabinet and left the Liberal caucus to deal with addiction issues.
"Mr. Tootoo will be taking time to seek treatment for addiction issues," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a brief statement Tuesday evening. Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc will be taking over Tootoo's cabinet responsibilities.
Tootoo is the first cabinet minister to leave the seven-month-old government.
Hunter Tootoo answers a question during Question Period earlier this month. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
In a statement, Tootoo asked for privacy and said he was quitting as a Liberal caucus member "in order to not distract from the important work of my colleagues."
Trudeau's office did not specify what kind of issues Tootoo was facing. Two sources told The Huffington Post Canada that it involves alcohol abuse.
The prime minister told reporters on Wednesday that Tootoo had made the decision to resign. "This was his own choice, after a very difficult situation. We will have nothing else to say on this matter," said Trudeau.
Please read my statement on the resignation of Hunter Tootoo from cabinet: https://t.co/qzc11mE74e
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 1, 2016
The Nunavut MP was absent from the House of Commons Tuesday for an important vote on the Liberal government's assisted dying bill.
Tootoo was a territorial politician for 14 years, and served for a time as speaker of the Nunavut legislative assembly.
According to a 2015 report by the Nunatsiaq Online newspaper, he tried to get the Iqaluit Brewing Company off the ground last summer. In a pitch to local authorities, Tootoo said the microbrewery would be capable of producing 2,000 litres of beer.
"I've always been an individual who says what needs to be said, whether it's popular or not."
He won the seat for the Liberals in the last election, defeating former cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq. In an interview with The Huffington Post Canada last year, Tootoo said he chose to run with Trudeau partly because of the leader's charisma and openness.
"There is a lack of trust right now between aboriginal people of Canada and the federal government, and listening to [Trudeau], he wants to rebuild that trust and rebuild that relationship," he said.
Hunter Tootoo makes an announcement in Vancouver on Dec. 16, 2015. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Tootoo said was particularly attracted to the Liberals' economic plan and Trudeau's honesty about the need to run a deficit.
"I've always been an individual who says what needs to be said, whether it's popular or not," explained Tootoo.
When he was named Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard, he said the appointment heralded a new relationship with Canada's aboriginal peoples.
"I'm very proud to be the first aboriginal person, first northern person to be appointed to this position," he told The Canadian Press.
Hunter Tootoo meets U.S. President Barack Obama in March. (Adam Scotti/PMO)
Politicians struggle with addiction
Earlier this year, Newfoundland Liberal MP Seamus O'Regan announced that he had checked himself into rehab over the Christmas holidays.
"Over the last year or two, alcohol was becoming a part of my daily life. I regularly had several drinks at the end of most days. Sometimes more than several drinks," he wrote on Facebook. "I was far from my best self."
At the time, Trudeau tweeted his "full support" for O'Regan.
My thoughts are with my friend & colleague @SeamusORegan tonight, and he has my full support.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 4, 2016
O'Regan did not leave the Liberal caucus and was back at work in mid-January after 40 days of sobriety.
In 2012, Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash took a short "medical leave" after being ejected from an Air Canada flight due to his intoxication. He returned to work a few months later.