Grits on life support

These days, few organizations would envy the federal Liberal party. The Yukon Liberal Party is one probable exception. And that suggests just how badly injured the local Grits are.

These days, few organizations would envy the federal Liberal party.

The Yukon Liberal Party is one probable exception.

And that suggests just how badly injured the local Grits are.

In many ways, the two parties parallel one another. For example, both have been smashed by resurgent Conservative and New Democratic parties and were reduced to shadows of their former selves.

And, like the national party, shaky leadership, infighting and financial woes contributed to the local party’s decline.

Arthur Mitchell couldn’t inspire voters before or during the electoral campaign. Though he performed well during the debates, it was too little, too late. He failed to gain the voter confidence in the months and years prior to the election and, ultimately, like federal leader Michael Ignatieff, it cost his party the election and his own seat.

But leadership wasn’t the sole problem. Or, rather, Mitchell’s immediate leadership wasn’t the only problem.

The roots of the troubles go much deeper than that.

Like the federal party, the seeds of the local party’s defeat were sown years earlier, when Mitchell ousted Pat Duncan from the leader’s post.

And the party is obviously still too busy fighting itself to mount a decent offensive against its main two political opponents.

Duncan supporters abandoned the party. And, many of those showed up in the ranks of the reinvigorated Yukon Party during its wildly successful leadership race, which saw Darrell Pasloski elected leader over the more liberal candidate Rod Taylor.

Though Taylor lost, the influx of new blood gave a new, moderate image to the Yukon Party.

And others turned to the NDP, like Don Roberts, a former Liberal health minister, who worked against both the Grits and the Yukon Party in the last election.

Again, the local political scene mirrors the federal scene.

There’s been a shift in the political landscape, both nationally and locally.

Nationally, things are now more polarized. In the Yukon, they may be coming back to the historical norm.

Since party politics came to the territory, the two natural political opponents have been the Yukon Party and the NDP.

The electorate has only dabbled with the centre-straddling Liberals when the other two natural choices were untenable.

That’s not the case now.

There is very little real estate in the middle.

Like its federal cousin, the local Liberals were squeezed between the revitalized New Democrats, led by Liz Hanson, and Pasloski’s beefed up Yukon Party, both of which were retooled and seen by the electorate as more capable and confident.

And so, the Yukon Liberals were split worse than ever – bleeding members to the left and right, the remaining few struggling to hold everything together.

It put on a brave face, but going into the election the organization was weak and financially strapped.

The result was the near wipeout we saw on election night.

It now has just two seats – one occupied by rookie Dawson MLA Sandy Silver and the other by Darius Elias, who probably lacks the political experience or support to rebuild a party from scratch. His own constituents want him dealing with their issues, not the party’s.

Worse, after losses in 2006, the recent byelection, the federal election and the latest territorial election, party functionaries now have to contend with the impression they are incapable of mounting a successful election campaign. That will make it still more difficult to drum up support in the future.

Their drastically reduced caucus will compound that difficulty.

Which is why they are probably a little envious of the similarly crippled federal party.

As bad as things are there, it has an easier path.

Interim leader Bob Rae has baggage, especially in Ontario, but he is a seasoned politician who doesn’t need to learn the ropes.

And the former New Democrat has now dedicated himself to the Liberal brand.

And in the House of Commons, the NDP find themselves with an inexperienced interim leader in Nycole Turmel. That’s giving Rae some room to grandstand, snag headlines and rebuild the Liberal brand.

The Yukon Grits’ Elias is no Rae. And Hanson is no Turmel.

So, while the Liberals are breathing on their own in Parliament, here they are on life support.

It is too soon to predict whether they can recover.

Or even if they will survive.

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