Darius Elias has stepped down as leader of the territory’s Liberals and will sit as an Independent in the upcoming fall sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
The member for Vuntut Gwitchin has been with the party for the six years he has been in office. He said the decision did not come easy.
“It took me a long time to make this decision – a month actually – and there’s lots of pieces that are involved,” he said. “For the most part, it’s for my constituents.”
It was advice from “political leaders in Old Crow” that brought Elias to “re-evaluate” his partisan alliance. He said he wasn’t “at the top of his game” during the legislature’s spring sitting.
Essentially, the responsibilities of leading and rebuilding a political party were not what the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizen signed up for.
“Over the last few months, I found myself spending the majority of my time dealing with rebuilding a political party, and that was never in the cards,” he said. “There’s other personal pieces to this puzzle but it was evident to me that in the best interest of everyone in mind, it’s time for me to stand down from the Liberal party and look at the goals and aspirations and issues through a nonpartisan lens.
“I never got into this to seek the leadership of any political party or to be a part of a rebuilding exercise that took all my time and energy. I got into this to make a difference.”
Elias was one of only two Liberal members elected in last fall’s territorial election.
Sandy Silver, the party’s new member for the Klondike, will take on the role of leader. He thanked Elias for his important contributions, adding that the “door is open for him to return at a later date,” in a statement released this morning.
Silver was on a flight and unavailable for further comment before press time.
Elias confirmed that the personal parts of his decision do not reflect on the party or its other members.
“This is not about irreconcilable differences, this is not about airing dirty laundry, this is not about a Jerry Springer-type explanation. This is basically a political metamorphosis that happens all the time in our territory,” he said. “For the most part, my decision is motivated by the challenges that the people of my riding will face in the coming years.”
Elias listed housing, education, a recreation centre and winter road access as the “big-ticket” items being sought by his constituents.
He also noted that the political culture in Old Crow has never really been partisan and the people tend to elect a person, not a party.
For a long spell from 1978 until 2000, pundits noted the territory’s northernmost riding, with the best voter turnout, always elected an MLA whose party became the government. That was until Elias’ predecessor, New Democrat Lorraine Peter (then Netro) was elected for the first time in 2000.
The most remote riding, with the fewest voters, hasn’t had an MLA from the governing party since.
Now, as an Independent, Elias will be able to focus his work with the goals of his home community, instead of the goals of a political party, he said.
He admits the extra responsibilities as the Liberals’ interim leader were compounded by personal stresses, but he said bowing out of politics altogether was not an option.
“I took an oath after the last election to represent my constituents to the best of my ability and that’s what I intend to do over the coming years,” he said. “We need all the leaders in Old Crow to be pushing in the same direction, and I don’t shy away from any task. I never have and I never will. But sometimes you have to navigate through difficult waters. Hopefully, my decision today will bode well not only for my constituents, for my family, or for myself, but for Yukoners in general.”
Elias wouldn’t speculate on how his newfound independence will influence the legislature, or whether he would vote differently on controversial subjects like the Peel River Watershed Land Use Plan, except to say he will do what his constituents advise.
He has nothing but good wishes and gratitude for the Liberal party, he added, and says he is confident it will fare well under Silver.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at