Last October, Yukon independent MLA John Edzerza crossed the floor to join the governing Yukon Party, amid much speculation – and as many denials – that he had been promised some kind of plum. At the time the government was floundering, having lost its fragile majority when MLA Brad Cathers quit both cabinet and caucus in protest at Premier Dennis Fentie’s bullying tactics.
Curiously, Edzerza himself had once left the Yukon Party amid similar complaints. He made good political capital out of that move back in 2006, when he quit the government and ran as a New Democrat in his home riding of McIntyre/Takhini. He had tried to cross the floor directly into the NDP, but they wouldn’t have him on those grounds. Once he’d won a nomination vote, though, they hadn’t much choice.
Edzerza won his seat and joined the NDP opposition benches, much to the chagrin of many members, who reasoned that the party ought to be able to get along without Tory-turncoat seat-warmers. Wandering John hung around a bit more than two years and then quit that party as well, leaving the New Democrats to sit as an independent.
Now, Edzerza is not the first Yukon legislator to jump ship to get what he wants. In fact, there’s been a bit of an epidemic of it going on lately. Fentie himself left the NDP because he didn’t see any chance of becoming that party’s leader, joined the conservative Yukon Party, and has been elected premier twice. Cathers, Fentie’s former principle yes-man, crossed the floor when his high sense of virtue wouldn’t permit him to say yes anymore.
A while later, two NDP members were caught negotiating with Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell over whether they might switch ranks, and were summarily booted from caucus, into Mitchell’s waiting arms. Maybe since so many others weren’t bothering to dance with who brung them, Edzerza figured it was OK to complete the circle and take another turn on the floor with his old flame.
But still the question arises, why did he do it? He had made his dislike for Fentie quite clear only a month earlier when he said such things as, “I left Mr. Fentie’s government under the same circumstances as Brad and it doesn’t look like anything has changed,” and “I sure as heck wouldn’t volunteer to go back to that hornet’s nest,” and more of the same.
Most observers assumed that Fentie must have sweetened the pot with something very tasty. Last week, we found out what it was, when the premier shuffled his cabinet to give Edzerza the Environment portfolio. To make room for his new dance partner, Fentie had to hand off Elaine Taylor, his most able, and only popular, cabinet minister.
Fentie’s treatment of Taylor is as despicable as Edzerza’s opportunism, but these are small matters compared to the cavalier attitude both have demonstrated toward the Yukon’s environment. Taylor herself expressed it well while trying to put a brave face on things when she told reporters, “Environment is one of the most complex departments. It is a very complex and very important portfolio. Environment touches every Yukoner’s daily life and it’s what makes us proud to call the Yukon home.”
Or to put it another way, the Yukon is one of the last great wild places on earth, and protecting that wildness while still allowing Yukoners to make a living on and off the land is the greatest challenge facing government today. It’s miles beyond Edzerza’s meagre political ability, even if he could be trusted to stick at it long enough to get anything done, and it’s utterly irresponsible to take it away from an experienced minister like Taylor and hand it to a bit of flotsam like Edzerza.
Fentie has been a cynical, self-serving politician from the start, but this time he has outdone himself. Too much of a bully to keep even a loyalist like Cathers in the fold, he had to resort to cutting a deal with the gadfly Edzerza. Now, when the smoke clears, we discover that he’s traded away the thing Yukoners care about most.
The only thing of value that Edzerza brings to the Environment portfolio is his dedication to recycling himself. The trouble is, he’s been in the blue box too many times, he’s picked up too many impurities along the way to be of any value. Dedicated as Yukoners are to reuse and recycling, there are always some items that are nothing but trash, and simply belong in the landfill.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.