A pair of honourable men

Last Wednesday, one day after the Yukon territorial election, I turned to the Yukon News to get all the final results, and to see what the various politicians, successful and otherwise, had to say about the race and about the future.

Last Wednesday, one day after the Yukon territorial election, I turned to the Yukon News to get all the final results, and to see what the various politicians, successful and otherwise, had to say about the race and about the future.

I wasn’t expecting a lot of surprises; election night statements tend to be about as original as sports commentary.

For the most part, the reports lived up to my expectations. The NDP Official Opposition promises to hold the Yukon Party government to account, the new government chief of staff got a haircut, the failed Liberal leader resigned on the spot. And then I came upon John Thompson’s interview with Premier Darrell Pasloski, and found the following statement:

“Pasloski won’t support the plan to protect four-fifths of the Peel Watershed. Instead, he aims to persuade chiefs – who staunchly support protecting the vast swath of northeast Yukon – that allowing mining in the area is crucial to the territorial economy. ‘It’s time for us to work together. It’s time to get going to the table.’”

I had to go back and read this twice to be certain it said what it did.

For the entire election campaign, Pasloski had resolutely refused to take a position on the Peel Watershed, branding his political rivals “irresponsible” for coming out in favour of the plan before a final round of consultations is completed.

Now here he was, moments after learning that he had secured a majority government, taking a position on the Peel.

Surely not? Surely, I thought, Thompson has it wrong.

The newly elected premier can’t be standing up on election night and reversing his position on an issue Yukoners identified as one of the most important of the campaign. Even with five years of power all but guaranteed, a blatant sneer in the voters’ faces is hardly a good start to a first full term in office.

I waited for Friday’s paper, certain that I would find there a withdrawal, an Our Mistake, or at the very least a firmly worded letter from the Yukon Party calling Thompson out for misrepresenting the premier’s words.

Friday came and went, and not a word of contradiction.

I began to wonder if we had all misunderstood Pasloski’s earlier remarks.

Maybe all those times before election day, when he declared that it would be irresponsible to take a position “before the process is completed,” he wasn’t talking about the Peel planning process at all. Maybe what he meant to say was, “It would be irresponsible to scare away voters before the process of getting me elected premier is completed.”

Seen from that point of view, it makes perfect sense that he would suddenly take a position just as the TV screen flashed up his winning score.

Still, the premier did let us all go on believing that his lips were sealed on the Peel till sometime late in November, when the final round of consultations will be complete. It makes his election-night reversal look a bit careless, and perhaps even a trifle dishonest.

And here will be the final test of the accuracy of Thompson’s reporting. If the premier was telling fibs throughout the election, we will soon know all about it, because Honest Brad Cathers won’t let it pass.

Newly elected in Laberge, Brad is a man of principle, who cannot stand to see a premier deceiving the public. Not long ago, he left his cabinet post and the Yukon Party caucus because then-premier Dennis Fentie had been less than up-front about his plans to sell off public assets to a private company.

Did Pasloski thumb his nose at the electorate? Did he tell us one thing throughout the campaign and then say the opposite on election night? Did he, in fact, intentionally mislead us? We will soon know.

If Cathers takes his seat on the government benches, if he doesn’t tread that well-worn path across the floor to sit as an Independent, the matter will be settled. The premier will stand exonerated, and we will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is an honourable man – every bit as honourable, indeed, as the member for Laberge.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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