A fighter hangs up his gloves
Ian Stewart/Yukon News
Gary McRobb won’t seek another term as the Liberal MLA for Kluane.
And he sounds relieved. He answers the question of how he feels with one word: “Better.”
He’s held the seat since 1996. Just how long that’s been - 15 years - hit McRobb in January, when he realized he had represented the riding longer than his predecessor, Bill Brewster.
“He seemed like he was there forever. To realize I had been MLA longer than Bill was a real wake-up call.”
And the past two years have offered McRobb, 55, a few reminders to not squander his remaining years. During that time he lost his younger brother, aged 50, and then his father, aged 89.
Over the past year, he’s also seen two colleagues felled: first, foremr NDP Leader Todd Hardy, who succumbed to leukemia, and then the NDP’s Steve Cardiff, who died in a car crash.
McRobb worked with both men until 2006, when he was expelled the from the New Democrats and joined the Liberals.
“It’s too bad both Steve and Todd won’t be able to enjoy post-MLA life,” said McRobb.
“All of this is a reminder how short life is. You have to enjoy it while you can. I’m looking out the window: it’s a nice sunny day. Hopefully, there will be lots of blue sky ahead.”
McRobb entered public life to protect Aishihik Lake from further hydroelectric projects. As he retires, he expects to spend a lot more time at his cabin on the lakeside.
As the Liberals’ energy critic, McRobb served as the party’s attack dog during the ATCO energy privatization scandal and other matters.
Occasionally, he would over-reach, with accusations never quite substantiated in fact. But McRobb always reckoned it was better to hit too hard, rather than too soft.
“If you take a lackadaisical approach, you’re going to get nothing.”
Premier Dennis Fentie usually replied in kind, offering his most withering rebukes to McRobb.
“I’d appreciate his attention,” said McRobb. “When they stop mentioning your name, you know you’re in trouble.”
Sometimes McRobb’s heavy criticisms would come back to haunt him.
“When you vote Liberal, you’re prepared to throw your values out the window,” he told the legislature in the winter of 2001, while sitting with the NDP. The Yukon Party never let him forget those words once he switched teams.
And McRobb doesn’t deny that he occasionally caused strife within his own party.
“Quite often I don’t get along with anybody - including reporters,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t get along with my mother too, OK? Sometimes I’m hard to get along with.”
McRobb sees this as only being natural, in the “pressure cooker” of politics.
Yet now he’s doing what would have been unthinkable a short time ago. He’s pulling his punches.
The Liberals remain “the best choice” for voters in the coming election, he said. But, uncharacteristically, he won’t elaborate.
“I don’t want to get too political on my way out. I’m going to leave it at that. If I go further, it’ll cause hard feelings on the part of members of the other parties. This is not a time for me to score political points.”
In Piers McDonald’s NDP government, McRobb never broke into cabinet, instead serving as a cabinet commissioner for Energy, Mines and Resources. It would prove the closest he’d come to wielding direct political power, following the Yukon Party’s rise to power in 2000.
Had he wished he’d had a cabinet post? Certainly.
“Then I wouldn’t have to argue a case to people in another party and be subject to their roadblocks and refusals. I’d be able to work directly with the deputy minister.”
McRobb also admits to growing tired with sitting in opposition for three terms. Over the past three years, he often sounded weary while he recited political boilerplate.
“The job became monotonous years ago. It was just like watching the same movie over again. A lot of it was the same routine.
“After 15 years, I’m saying, ‘Which way is out?’”
Many politicians put on pounds after winning office. McRobb, after initially plumping up, dropped more than 100 pounds, thanks to a diet regime. The weight loss was evident from his baggy suits.
He still struggles with his weight, “but it’s a hell of a lot less of a fight than Todd Hardy went through. It proves if you put your mind to something, you can succeed.”
McRobb will spend a lot less time commuting between Haines Junction and Whitehorse soon. During his career, he’s weathered criticism for collecting travel expenses upwards of $35,000, second only to the Klondike’s Steve Nordick.
To this, McRobb offers the same rebuttal he recalls Peter Jenkins using - “It proves I’m doing my job.”
Besides, there are more important things in life than worrying about the shenanigans of politicians. Just ask McRobb.
“It’s time for you to let go too. I tell you, it really feels good. Look outside. The sun is shining. There’s lots of blue sky. You can put down that clump of mud, wash your hands and be free.”
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