Saturday, about 1,500 card-carrying Yukon Party supporters will end the Dennis Fentie era by electing a new leader.
The other 17,000 of us will watch from beyond the glass, wondering who they’ll choose to be our new premier.
There are clear choices in this leadership race – Darrell Pasloski, the stoic Conservative businessman who invested much time and energy in the party, Jim Kenyon, the former Energy minister who was blindsided by Fentie in the ATCO debacle, and Rod Taylor, a tourism operator and disgruntled Liberal who joined the Yukon Party just a month ago.
So, whom do the party faithful choose?
It is not a decision they should take lightly.
Their decision will determine whether the party rules for five months. Or another five years.
Sure, a lot can happen before the next election.
But make no mistake, right now it looks as if one candidate stands a good chance of keeping the party in power.
Another will banish them to the backbenches.
And the third will probably put them in a three-way race with Liz Hanson’s New Democrats and Arthur Mitchell’s Liberals.
Oddly, this race mirrors the June 2002 leadership election Fentie won on the first ballot.
The earlier contest was also a three-man race between former New Democrat Fentie, who’d crossed the floor roughly a month earlier to the Yukon Party, party stalwart Peter Jenkins and then-party president Darcy Tkachuk.
Like Kenyon today, Tkachuk was always a long-shot candidate when viewed against Fentie and Jenkins.
Jenkins, an oft-controversial figure in territorial politics, was the Yukon’s Party’s sole survivor in the 2000 election. He held the party together, moved it closer to the centre and played a role luring Fentie to the organization from the NDP.
Fentie had political sparkle. He was considering a run at the NDP leadership, which was also leaderless, but was seen as “further right than Attila the Hun,” by some … no, most of the membership.
New Democrats would never accept him as the leader. And he knew it.
So he jumped to the Yukon Party, which was a better fit politically.
In June 2002, with 237 votes, exactly what he needed, he won the leadership.
In doing so, he laundered the Yukon Party. He played up his time in the NDP, giving the conservative party a fresh veneer of social conscience, something it lacked.
And, in November 2002, Fentie’s Yukon Party team won the election, trouncing Pat Duncan’s Liberals.
Today, after a month-long leadership battle, the Yukon Party has 1,100 more members than it had in 2002. That’s a pile, and it’s not clear who’s been buying the memberships.
Or who they are going to support?
By all accounts, Kenyon is running a distant third.
He’s damaged the party with revelations Fentie’s been hoarding about $17.5 million in federal housing money simply to make the territorial balance sheet look better.
He has no public support from his colleagues, and no discernible campaign machine behind him. He seems a lone wolf in this race.
And it’s unlikely he could take the Yukon Party to victory in a general election if elected premier.
Which makes it a two-way race between Pasloski and Taylor.
Pasloski is the establishment candidate, and Yukon Party stalwarts like his conservative pedigree and ties to Stephen Harper.
He’s well managed and seems the frontrunner in this race.
For the Yukon Party, he’s safe and comfortable – like an old pair of shoes.
But he’s not an inspiring talker or particularly interesting to those beyond that camp.
If members elect him premier, the Yukon Party draws even with the Yukon Liberals and NDP. And, in that field, New Democrat Elizabeth Hanson looks particularly interesting to the wider public.
Which brings us to Taylor.
He’s the X-factor, little known to the public or party, but, like all good politicians, the guy’s got personality and some fresh ideas – a bit of flash.
And he scares the hell out of both the Liberals and conservatives.
Because with Taylor in charge, the Yukon Party will be laundered like it was in 2002 – it will gain a veneer of social and environmental conscience.
The Yukon Party would straddle the centre, vacuuming up much Liberal support and maybe a couple of NDP stragglers.
And, like 2002, it would win the next election – that’s almost guaranteed, barring some calamity.
Taylor is in the Yukon Party camp because of a lack of faith in Mitchell. He’s brought a gaggle of Liberals and won the support of progressive conservatives.
As such, this Yukon Party leadership race has become a referendum on the Liberal leadership. Or a coup, depending on your point of view.
The Yukon Party stalwarts don’t want that to happen. They want control.
They want Pasloski.
So, on Saturday, it will be interesting to see who sold the most Yukon Party memberships – conservatives or liberals.
Anyway, that’s the way it looks from beyond the glass.
Those inside the room face a difficult choice. Principles, or power.