Duncan’s departure a blow to Liberals

The timing of Pat Duncan’s decision to quit politics is unfortunate — if you’re a Liberal.

The timing of Pat Duncan’s decision to quit politics is unfortunate — if you’re a Liberal.

Politicos are whispering that the election call may come as soon as August 25, which would make Monday, September 25 the day that makes or breaks Premier Dennis Fentie’s hopes for re-election.

At this point, it’s anyone’s race.

However, simple arithmetic tells us which party has fared the best over the last year. The number of Liberal seats grew from one to four, while the Yukon Party lost its deputy premier and the NDP lost its two most experienced MLAs, as well as official opposition status.

With newly elected leader Arthur Mitchell attracting — and accepting — commitments to his left flank inside the house, the Liberals were gathering steam.

But Duncan’s departure sucks some wind from the party’s sails in the very month an election might be called, offering its opponents some respite.

Consider the Yukon Party. The defection of John Edzerza last week knocked the government’s majority down to nine seats, evenly matched across the floor.

Now if Fentie does call a for a pre-election sitting of the legislative assembly — as he continually hints, though it seems increasingly less likely — he must rely on Speaker Ted Staffen to vote in favour of whatever supplementary budget or legislative amendments (to the Children’s Act, perhaps?) the Yukon Party might have up its sleeve.

Doable, but dicey. Speakers aren’t supposed to vote; the house, and democracy, needs a clearer mandate than a nine-nine tie can offer. So if there is a fall sitting, it’s bound to be short.

Duncan’s decision not to seek re-election takes the spotlight off the Yukon Party’s troubles and shines it on the losses of the Liberals, who’ve had all the momentum, until now.

Meanwhile, the Yukon Party’s loss is the NDP’s gain, since Edzerza announced his intention to seek the NDP nomination in his McIntyre-Takhini riding.

Even without a guarantee of winning the NDP nomination — party stalwart Rachel Lewis also wants to run in Mac-Tak — Edzerza’s praise for leader Todd Hardy can’t hurt.

“I honestly feel the territory is going to be in dire need of someone like Todd Hardy to move the social agenda,” Edzerza told reporters last week.

“If we’re not going to take the drug situation in the territory very seriously, we’re going to be burying a lot of our young people.”

Edzerza doesn’t think the Yukon Party is doing enough in this regard. Ouch.

Before Edzerza’s endorsement, Hardy and the NDP were still reeling from the loss of Gary McRobb and Eric Fairclough to the Liberals.

The NDP won’t fully know the extent of the damage until the fall election tallies are finalized. But sudden support from a disillusioned cabinet minister — and his criticism of the incumbent government — can’t hurt.

And now the Liberals — building momentum since Mitchell’s November election, compounded with the additions of McRobb and Fairclough — lose their thrice-elected incumbent in Porter Creek South in a tight race that could be headed for an even three-way split.

Not to detract from Duncan’s decision. She has her reasons and it’s her call to make.

She said it was a difficult decision. No doubt. Four years after the Liberals fell from grace, plummeting from a majority government to a single seat in a snap election, the party has a valid shot at forming the next government.

How could the party’s only veteran MLA not want to be a part of it?

How could Duncan not be tempted by redemption?

She has her reasons. Health and family are more important, she said, which means her priorities are more in sync with being human than being a politician.

Hardy, by contrast, has newly revealed health issues of his own, but won’t abandon the NDP until he knows more detail about his condition, and fully intends to lead the party into the fall election with his commitment to Habitat for Humanity well established and his family reported to be supporting him 100 per cent.

Mitchell was quick to point out that Duncan hasn’t left her party, and will be helping the Liberal campaign.

So count on seeing her walking the streets of Porter Creek, introducing a rookie on her arm.

If the Liberals manage to muster a candidate with Duncan’s kind of humanity — and Hardy’s will to show it — they might be able to offer something rare in Yukon politics.

That, if anything, is what wins votes. (GM)