A party divided

Yukon Party kingpin Craig Tuton has thrown his support behind leadership candidate Darrell Pasloski. "He has all the skills required to be a leader. He believes in teamwork and he works well," said Tuton.

Yukon Party kingpin Craig Tuton has thrown his support behind leadership candidate Darrell Pasloski.

“He has all the skills required to be a leader. He believes in teamwork and he works well,” said Tuton, who helped manage Pasloski’s unsuccessful bid as Yukon’s Conservative candidate during the 2008 federal election.

“I saw that firsthand in the federal campaign.”

Until Tuton made his endorsement late last week, it appeared as if Rod Taylor had the backing of the ruling party’s establishment. He’s been endorsed by Elaine Taylor, Yukon’s tourism minister, and has been seen schmoozing on several occasions with Speaker Ted Staffen.

Tuton’s backing of Pasloski paints a more complicated picture of a party divided.

Tuton is a longtime supporter of outgoing premier Dennis Fentie. Yet, in hitching himself to Pasloski’s star, Tuton has become allies with Brad Cathers, MLA for Lake Laberge, whose public feud with Fentie over the ATCO energy privatization scandal provoked a civil war within the party.

Like many Pasloski supporters, Tuton wants business as usual. Taylor’s supporters, in contrast, promise to bring new blood and new ideas to the party.

Taylor’s campaign is run by Scott Kent, who served a minister under Pat Duncan’s Liberal government. Taylor didn’t have political affiliations until signing up with the Yukon Party last month, although his detractors are quick to note that he once sought the Liberal Party’s leadership.

Some longtime members, such as Tim Preston, a Whitehorse lawyer, see Taylor’s bid as a chance to expand their party’s support. “He’s a new face, a new attitude, a new balance, a new generation, a renewed hope, and a new vision for Yukon,” Preston wrote in a testimonial.

Yukon’s mining community, meanwhile, appear to have rallied behind Pasloski, who has been the most vocal in expressing his support of continuing the free-entry method of staking claims.

Rob McIntyre, former head of the chamber of mines and ex-VP of Alexco Resources, has offered his support. And prospector Wade Carrell has bombarded local newspapers with letters endorsing Pasloski.

The leadership race has produced new embarrassments for the government. Shortly after Jim Kenyon announced his leadership ambitions, he says Fentie fired him as minister responsible for Economic Development and the housing, lottery and liquor corporation.

Kenyon responded with the bombshell disclosure that Fentie, as finance minister, had sat on $17.5 million in affordable housing money in recent years, allegedly in order to pump-up the Yukon’s savings account. Fentie declined to comment on the matter.

Both opposition parties have blasted the government for not putting the money to work by now, with Whitehorse facing an acute housing shortage.

Taylor conceded that “it would seem silly for us to not turn it into productive capital.”

Pasloski named land development as a priority, but he wouldn’t otherwise comment, “because I don’t have the whole picture,” he said. “I’d want to sit down with caucus to have a collective look at it.”

New ideas are being floated, and just as quickly shot down. Taylor has cast himself as champion of a scheme to connect the Yukon to British Columbia’s energy grid, as a source of relatively cheap electricity that will soon be needed, as new mines open.

Kenyon rebutted the idea on Tuesday. “Yukon Energy has been working on that forever,” said Kenyon, who was once minister responsible for utility.

“It’s probably not in my lifetime, and maybe not in yours. But it’s something to work towards.”

Plugging into BC’s grid is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Taylor and other proponents, such as Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell, haven’t explained where they intend to find that money, said Kenyon.

He has a more modest proposal: connect to Atlin, where a First Nation has built a micro-hydro dam with one megawatt of electricity to spare.

The territory will need far more power than that, but the Atlin connection is a relatively quick and easy stopgap measure.

Kenyon’s also bullish on building a weir to hold back water in Atlin Lake – a proposal that’s being vigorously fought by Atlin residents. Kenyon dismissed their objections as “misinformation.”

“All we’re doing is let the level of the lake rise normally, and drop normally, but stopping it just before the end, letting that three inches go out over a slower time period. It’s nothing to do with raising the level of the lake.”

Government spindoctors claim that Kenyon resigned so that his ministerial duties did not conflict with the leadership race. But Elaine Taylor continues to sit in cabinet while she stumps for Rod Taylor’s campaign.

“She stepped away from her duties,” said executive assistant Dan Macdonald. That means that, for the duration of the leadership race, Taylor’s cabinet responsibilities are assumed by another minister.

Kenyon thought he had struck a similar arrangement, he said. But, shortly after he criticized Fentie’s heavy-handed leadership style, and confirmed that the premier negotiated the sale of Yukon Energy’s assets behind the backs of cabinet ministers, Kenyon said he learned that backbencher Steve Nordick had been given all his cabinet posts.

Murray Martin, a Whitehorse Star political columnist and self-proclaimed redneck, sees the ruling party’s cabinet and executive split on who to support. But he suspects Pasloski as their favourite.

That makes Martin root for Taylor. He learned, as a municipal politician and gun lobbyist in Ontario, to be wary of the “old boys’ club,” who come to represent entrenched interests.

“I think they’re afraid of Taylor because they don’t know Taylor, and Taylor doesn’t owe them any favours,” said Martin.

Kenyon has yet to win over prominent supporters. But Martin wouldn’t rule him out as being a spoiler, by siphoning away enough votes to tilt the scales in favour of one frontrunner.

All three leadership candidates say they intend to run in the upcoming election, whether they win the leadership or not.

Yukon Party members vote to elect a new leader on May 28. A leadership forum will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the High Country Inn.

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