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After 14 years in power, time for the Yukon Party to reflect

If you’re a Yukon Party supporter, Monday night probably was not a great experience. Watching your caucus get cut in half, your leader lose his own seat and a 14-year run of power come to an end cannot be easy.

If you’re a Yukon Party supporter, Monday night probably was not a great experience.

Watching your caucus get cut in half, your leader lose his own seat and a 14-year run of power come to an end cannot be easy.

For Darrell Pasloski, the strain of the evening was evident. Pasloski’s voice wavered as he spoke about the support of his wife Tammie and their four children and acknowledged the sacrifices political families have to make.

“These elections truly are the hardest on the families,” he said. “Only our spouses and our kids truly see that.”

Pasloski immediately announced he’s stepping down as Yukon Party leader, which is commonplace for leaders who lose power. Typically, the party faithful will make a show of it on election night, shouting “No!” when the leader announces his or her resignation. Pasloski’s announcement was met with silence. Nobody was going to argue.

But Pasloski spoke proudly about the next steps for the Yukon Party, which, despite the losses, will return an experienced caucus to the legislature as the official Opposition. “Let’s celebrate the wins that we got and let’s comfort those who weren’t successful and let’s look forward to mounting the strongest, most principled Opposition this territory has ever seen.”

Political parties are not monoliths, and a small-c conservative party with as many former Liberals as the Yukon Party has is going to be in for an interesting ideological test as the leadership race to replace Pasloski begins in earnest.

This is because the Yukon Party is not a particularly hard-core right-wing party. It is, to be sure, a pro-business party, and in its zeal to do what it thought was right by commerce, found itself burning bridges with First Nations, conservationists, and even large parts of the private sector.

However, Pasloski’s government administered a fairly middle-of-the-road Canadian welfare state, buoyed as it is by generous territorial formula financing provided by Mother Ottawa that allowed the Yukon

Party to spend and cut taxes at the same time. It was nominally conservative, but essentially centrist. That may be too right for you, or not right enough for you. Your experience may vary.

What happened to the Yukon Party (or what it did to itself) is indicative of a broader challenge for the conservative movement in Canada.

Yukon’s political right will have to choose whether it wants to continue to reject carbon pricing and accept the continued primacy of fossil fuels in our economic life. Yes, they will remain so for the immediate future, but their substitution is — unless you’re a caveman who denies climate change — something of an urgent project for society. Digging in against this project will become an increasingly dangerous political proposition for the parties of the right as the segment of the electorate who grew up during the automobile age gradually pass from this mortal coil.

It’s important to point out that the Yukon Party did not embrace climate denialism. Their campaign accepted the premise that climate change is real, a problem, and that the Yukon should make its own modest contribution to the efforts to mitigate it. Their proposal to invest heavily in energy-efficiency retrofits was worthwhile. The Liberals promised their own version of this, and should implement it at once.

But the Yukon Party tried to offer a hopeless fight against big bad Ottawa’s carbon pricing policy. In doing so, they implicitly wagered on other forms of government intervention (retrofits) in the economy, while the Liberals ran on an idea that should rationally appeal to conservatives: shifting the tax burden to pollution and off income and profits.

This is not the whole story of Monday’s vote, of course. Any election post-mortem must necessarily include the caveat that the future life expectancy of any government in power for 14 years will always be decidedly limited. It is a healthy democratic impulse for voters to want to periodically clean house. On top of its new role as the official Opposition, keeping Sandy Silver’s new government to account, the Yukon Party must work to mend fences with First Nations and consider its appeal in Whitehorse, where it was nearly shut out.

For Darrell Pasloski, the political best-before date he inherited when he took office could not be avoided. The Yukon Party made some mistakes, and you could argue that its shameful hedge on plans for the Peel watershed during the 2011 campaign was the Pasloski government’s original sin. His insistence that the campaign was “not about the last five years,” was simply not true.

But Pasloski’s concession speech was a graceful, sporting exit that reminded us that human beings who make up our political leadership give up a great deal to govern. They have all the obligations of work and family, plus they have a bunch of reporters yelling at them all the time. It’s not an easy life.

No matter what you think of him, Darrell Pasloski did a punishingly difficult job for five years, and gave up precious time with his family, friends, and, for some reason, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though they clearly chose another leader to govern, Yukoners should thank Pasloski for his work.

Contact Chris Windeyer at