the premiers legacy

Premier Dennis Fentie’s established his legacy during this sitting of the legislature. Despite assertions to the contrary, the…

Premier Dennis Fentie’s established his legacy during this sitting of the legislature.

Despite assertions to the contrary, the territory’s politicians achieved much in the last couple of months.

But Fentie’s legacy won’t be neighbourhood pubs.

It won’t be the murky and oft-divisive amendments to the Yukon Children’s Act.

It won’t be action on climate change.

And, despite assertions to the contrary, it won’t be turning around the territorial economy.

The credit for the territory’s current boom — as tenuous as it is  —  lies with China’s boom, which has pushed mineral prices to record highs. And also to successive federal governments for sending record-setting transfers of cash to the Yukon.

When it comes to the territorial economy, Fentie’s potential legacy is a fat and sassy civil service.

The cost of running the territorial government has almost doubled under Fentie’s watch — rising to $696 million from $370 million in 2001, the year before he took the reins of the territory.

That’s a dangerous legacy indeed.

Because if the primary driver of the Yukon economy — Ottawa —  decides to roll back transfers to the Yukon, then Fentie’s paper-shuffling economy will quickly tank.

Such a situation is not out of the question.

National economic growth is starting to slow. Ontario is struggling and Stephen Harper’s tax-cuts, coupled with heavy spending on the military and a focus on provincial wealth over Canada’s, have reduced the federal treasury to the point where federal wealth is almost a thing of the past.

Harper wants less federal influence in Canada. Not more.

Given that, a reliance on federal transfers is a dangerous game. If Harper were to cut transfers, even a little, the territory would be struggling again.

So, the so-called economic boom won’t be Fentie’s best-remembered legacy.

No, Fentie’s true legacy will be the Smoke-Free Places Act.

Sure, it began as New Democrat Todd Hardy’s private members bill. But Fentie provided the support — both from the Justice department and the government benches — to make it law.

It was his majority that allowed it to pass.

It won’t be wildly popular in rural communities, not in the short term.

But in a year or two, residents will look back and wonder how the territory ever allowed smoking in public places in the first place. It will be as socially acceptable as a spittoon.

The smoke-free-places law changes smoking from something acceptable, to something that really isn’t.

Society, especially in rural Yukon, doesn’t quite see smoking like that yet.

But it will. And that’s what progressive legislation does — it hauls society, kicking and screaming, towards something better.

In this case, smoking rates in the territory, which are tragically high, are likely to drop.

Restaurant and bar owners will make more money as non-smokers return to places they avoided because they were so filled with smoke.

Workers’ compensation claims will drop.

And the territory’s medical system will cost less because people’s health will improve.

And, even if his government accomplishes nothing else, that’s a hell of a legacy. (RM)