Opportunism proves irresistible to Elias

By crossing over to the Yukon Party, Darius Elias has shown that he's unscrupulous, opportunistic and stands for nothing but his own hunger for power.

By crossing over to the Yukon Party, Darius Elias has shown that he’s unscrupulous, opportunistic and stands for nothing but his own hunger for power. Having demonstrated he possesses all the qualities needed to be a cabinet minister, we expect he will receive a portfolio by the autumn. He’s got the right stuff.

This is a guy who’s never bothered to offer a cogent explanation for why he left the Liberal Party less than a year ago to stand as an Independent. So don’t expect his canned speech about why he’s joined the government to add up to much. Hell, he cribbed some lines from his last exit speech nearly word-for-word.

Now his departure from the Liberals at least makes more sense. At the time, he insisted that his job as the party’s interim leader was distracting him from his chief duty of grovelling for government cash for Old Crow. But if that’s your primary mission as MLA, why would you sit as an Independent? Clearly, he had an eye on joining the government then, and merely took the scenic route by first sitting as an Independent to diminish the uproar over his decision.

This is a well-trod path. Recall how John Edzerza, who could have won an Arctic Winter Games gold medal in party hopping, played the game.

When he quit the NDP in January of 2009, he cooled his heels for nine months as an Independent before joining the Yukon Party. Another four months later, he was rewarded with a cabinet post. Don’t be surprised to see something similar happen with Elias, who is already hard to recognize from who he once was.

The old Elias was passionate and fairly articulate. Although prone to bouts of feigned outrage, there was no question about his underlying sincerity about what he believed was right or wrong.

But when he became the Liberals’ interim leader, his behaviour grew increasingly erratic, first blowing off a leadership speech at the party’s annual meeting, then proposing an about-turn on the party’s position on the Peel watershed, only to quickly eat his words and deny he had considered any such thing. His anger was no longer a put-on, while what he stood for suddenly seemed contrived.

Elias has blamed undisclosed personal problems for some of his strange behaviour. Usually, such problems are no longer considered personal when they affect a politician’s public duties, and there’s an expectation to come clean. But everyone seemed content to give Elias a free pass.

In any case, the government is clearly taking a calculated risk by bringing Elias on board. Presumably it has good reason to do so.

The NDP Opposition was quick to offer its own theory: they saw Elias’s floor-crossing as part of a plot to rig the all-party committee that’s investigating the merits of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Premier Darrell Pasloski defused that notion soon afterwards by announcing that he would pull a member from the committee to balance things out. One wonders whether the government leaves room for such speculation just so that they can later correct the NDP.

Maybe the Yukon Party’s motives are much simpler. Maybe the premier simply thinks he could use a Gwitchin guy on his side. Relations between the territory and First Nations are not exactly rosy, after all. A long-running lawsuit over the Peel watershed seems all but inevitable, while the Kaska are threatening to blockade roads if need be to prevent natural gas exploration in the southeast.

However, Elias’s ability to help mend relations between the Yukon Party and First Nations may be hampered by his own tarnished credibility.

Elias’s defence of what he’s done – that it’s the best way to maximize how much loot Old Crow gets – has a practical air to it. Yukon’s only fly-in community is indeed special, and is more dependent than most communities on government support.

But it would be surprising if it were true that Old Crow residents were completely unconcerned with principles. Let’s remember that Elias was re-elected during a campaign that featured one major issue: the fate of the Peel watershed. As a Liberal, he ran on a platform that took a clear position on the Peel – his party endorsed the plan to protect four-fifths of the watershed. The Yukon Party, meanwhile, began the election by declaring that it had no position on the Peel, only to change its mind midway through and announce that it would reject the recommended plan.

Elias is free to try to square this circle how he may. It doesn’t escape the fact that switching one party for the other makes him look like a hypocrite.

As recently as October 2012, he told the News that the government’s handling of the Peel process showed disrespect to First Nation governments, the Yukon public and the Umbrella Final Agreement. At the time he continued to support the recommended plan and condemned the government’s “dangerous path.”

So, what’s he say now about the Peel? As little as possible. At the news conference where Elias announced his new allegiance, he claimed he hadn’t been keeping up on the issue enough to take a position, but he planned to follow the file closely.

That’s incredible. Not much has changed on the Peel front since the last election. Elias once held clear views on the issue – is he unable to explain what swayed him?

Of course, the Yukon Party’s preferred position on this file is to pretend it has no position at all – which is what we now also hear from Elias.

Residents of Old Crow, as well as anyone else who deals with Elias, should ask themselves: does that sound like someone who you can trust? 

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