We miss Dennis Fentie, just a little

With the sitting of the Yukon's legislature mercifully over, part of us can't help but wish that Dennis Fentie had been around to liven things up. Sure, the territory's last premier was a bully and a blowhard. But he had a way with words.

With the sitting of the Yukon’s legislature mercifully over, part of us can’t help but wish that Dennis Fentie had been around to liven things up.

Sure, the territory’s last premier was a bully and a blowhard. But he had a way with words. Even when Fentie was clearly in the wrong, it was sometimes hard not to guffaw at the abuse he would hurl at the Opposition. He was a natural performer – something that can’t be said of either his successor, Darrell Pasloski, or NDP Leader Liz Hanson.

If Hanson’s job is to feign outrage, Pasloski’s is to feign judiciousness. Neither are terribly convincing. Their performances in the legislature, as with most the MLAs, tend to be wooden and heavily scripted.

There are two exceptions worth hailing. On the government side, Health Minister Doug Graham seems capable of occasionally providing a straight answer – a rare trait among his colleagues.

If Graham doesn’t have an answer, he will often openly admit so. He doesn’t needlessly drone on. And he creates the impression that he actually weighs proposals based on their merits, rather than on kneejerk political instincts.

Maybe Graham is simply a better liar than the rest, but his responses are far more appealing than the stock answers offered up other Yukon Party ministers.

On the Opposition side, Kate White has shown moments of strength when she’s speaking from the heart, rather than off the printed page. She should do more of it.

Pasloski doesn’t do much talking in the legislature, and for good reason. He’s never appeared comfortable speaking in public, and he depends heavily on talking points studded with empty rhetoric.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that not even Pasloski believes some of the things he says. Consider his outrageous suggestion that the NDP oppose Canada’s trade pact with China because they “don’t like the Chinese.” This was amusing, in part, because it’s inconceivable that Pasloski – who, at bottom, seems pretty bland but is no idiot – would actually think to say such a thing himself.

We’d like to see Pasloski settle into a public persona that has a ring of sincerity to it. The trouble is, uttering silly evasions is a necessary part of his job, and he’s probably never going to be particularly good at that bit.

So, at the risk of sounding dangerously naive, here’s an idea: if you can’t persuasively defend your positions, maybe it’s time to come up with some new ones. He could start with abandoning the misguided idea that the way to reap the territory’s resource wealth is to pick fights with First Nations.

No? Well, it was worth a shot.

We’re not sure if NDP Leader Liz Hanson is into yoga, but she could be a little more zen during the proceedings. Her challenge is to remain cool in the face of the constant barrage of mockery directed at her by the government, which accuses her of leading a party of innumerate, amnesiac, economy-wrecking socialists.

Hanson sometimes lets this get to her. She needs to remember the goal is to come across as the bigger person. Instead, she can come across as petulant. More than once she’s refused to apologize after making a remark that’s been ruled out of order. We appreciate that some of Speaker David Laxton’s Homer-Simpsonesque calls are erratic, but she should take it on the chin.

Hanson could also employ a bit of variety in her tone. Her default is to be strident. She should try to show more flexibility, and remember that the insults she endures now will seem laughable later.

Resources Minister Brad Cathers is the closest thing to a Fentie in the crowd. Like his former master, he loves to fling muck at the Opposition. But, lacking Fentie’s quick wit, his zingers quickly become stale.

While there was a jovial tone to Fentie’s mockery, Cathers comes across as being mean spirited. And when Cathers isn’t denigrating members of the Opposition, he’s tattling to the Speaker about the insults they’ve uttered.

Keeping in mind that turnaround is fair play, Cathers may want to consider easing up on either the attacks or the complaints – unless he’s trying to come across as a jerk. Cathers’s habit of turning his back on Opposition MLAs to snicker with his colleagues is also offputting.

Most government ministers love to use the trick of answering the question they wish they had been asked. Nobody is more fond of this than Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor. This makes her speeches the most painful to endure.

No matter what she’s asked, she invariably interprets every question to mean, “Could the minister list, at great length, the government’s accomplishments?” Taylor is always happy to comply.

Occasionally – maybe just to keep the Opposition on its toes – she will provide an answer. But you can count on her using up most of her allotted time before sharing it. Every chance to speak is a chance to filibuster, and Taylor is shameless about it.

Intentionally or not, Education Minister Scott Kent adopts the air of an injured puppy. He sounds so earnest, it’s hard to not feel a bit sorry for him. But, given that he’s been a minister for a year now, it’s bewildering that he hasn’t been more prepared for the inevitable pushback over his department’s plans to leave F.H. Collins students without a gym for two and a half years. Come on, Scooter. You can do better.

Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko had the unenviable job this sitting of defending the government’s deplorable weakening of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. His stock answers – which boil down to saying that his right to privacy should trump the public’s right to know – are flimsy. And his claim that we’re merely matching most other jurisdictions is flat-out false.

We’d be unenthusiastic and sullen if we had to publicly defend the indefensible, too. But if this isn’t his cup of tea, perhaps it’s time to reconsider his decision to sit as a minister.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing that the territory’s politics aren’t being warped by any single magnetic personality. But it certainly makes the House debates less interesting to follow.

Sure, more substance would be nice, but we’d also like to see more style. With plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the House, we’re recommending that our MLAs attend a crash course at Wood Street’s Music, Arts and Drama program. The students there could surely teach our representatives what theatre, political or otherwise, can look like.

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