A tough Hanson taps her roots

Liz Hanson is one tough lady. The job that brought her north was never supposed to be given to a woman, the NDP leader discovered after moving here.

Liz Hanson is one tough lady.

The job that brought her north was never supposed to be given to a woman, the NDP leader discovered after moving here.

It was a frontline social work position, much like what she was doing in the bars, alleys and other dark places of Calgary’s downtown after finishing her degree in the field.

Before that, she earned a degree in political science (there was no money in that, she said, laughing).

She’s the eldest of six children. Her father, a pilot, died when she was seven, she said.

“On October eighth. This Saturday. Just before Thanksgiving,” she said. “He was flying a small airplane. There was a freak storm when he was bringing two guys from an exploration company.

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“My mom was pregnant with her sixth kid.”

But sitting at Umbellula on the River Cafe for lunch on Wednesday, Hanson reflects back on the party’s election campaign by starting at the beginning, with the death of another influential man in her life.

“Steve (Cardiff) and I were both so focused on working and getting this team pulled together and the conversations, right up to the afternoon he died, were about what our next step was,” she said, referring to her NDP colleague who died in a car accident in July.

“That was a huge shock,” she said, looking down at her fingers. “It took a bit of time, but the fact of the matter is you just get on with it.”

She took a moment to look back up, adjusting the orange scarf that hung from her shoulder and laced around her neck.

It was bright and bold against her other clothes, and a constant throughout the NDP’s campaign.

She kicked it all off a month ago with a housing strategy announced at a government-owned empty lot in downtown Whitehorse on a crisp afternoon.

Days later, she stood behind a podium in the foyer of the legislative building to announce the NDP’s plan to establish a legacy fund and get Yukoners a fairer share of territorial resource revenues.

Then, in a bitter wind outside Yukon College last week, Hanson and Olivia Chow, Jack Layton’s widow, announced plans to form a youth oversight council for the territory’s legislature.

Throughout the interview on Wednesday, Hanson waved and spoke with anyone who approached her in the cafe.

Much of the campaign has been smooth, a lot like these conversations at the restaurant.

Her plans for the homeless, the chronically inebriated and the Peel Watershed have, generally, been well received.

But her energy and economic plans have been picked apart, particularly her promise to begin government-backed banking and mortgage brokering and to raise resource royalties.

“There will be an increase,” she said of resource royalties and taxes on mining companies. “When you have three operating mines, excluding Capstone, and you’re not getting any royalties, something more than nothing is something.

“We’re not going to do this in a way that’s going to be driving away mining interests, but I just think it’s only fair that if a shareholder in Toronto or Vancouver is getting money, being paid dividends, then we should be getting something while they’re getting that as well. All of that is tax deductible.

“What we’re suggesting is that along that continuum, include Yukon. Include Yukon as you’re going along. Because if we wait until the process of declaring a profit, we’ll be waiting a very long time. We’ll never get to the $3 million, let alone the $40 million or $60 million that the Yukon and Liberal parties keep touting as this wonderful potential benefit-negotiated cap on resource royalties.”

As for criticisms she’d jeopardize the Yukon Housing Corporation by offering low-interest loans, resembling subprime mortgages, Hanson said it’s important for the territorial government to act on the housing issue, especially in this overheated market.

“The federal government has pulled back on a national housing strategy and has only been forced into providing money in the last couple of years because of the recession,” said Hanson. “We need to find homemade instruments and, if we can work with Yukon Housing to do that, all the better.”

And securing housing is one thing Hanson’s upbringing has taught her to never take for granted.

“Key thing about my parents was that when he died, my mom had a house,” she said. “We always had a house. And it didn’t matter if we didn’t have any money, we had somewhere to live. That sustains my view that housing is the issue for stability in any way.”

And when Hanson entered high school, that house began to fill up, literally, with books, as her mother got a job as a sales representative with McClelland & Stewart publishing.

The family lived near University of Alberta in Edmonton, and that led to visits from many interesting characters.

“She used to get a copy of every book she was selling,” said Hanson. “It really exposed us to a lot. All these authors would always come through the house, anybody from Farley Mowat, to Dennis Lee, to all sorts of people just kind of sitting in your kitchen.

“My mother was pretty resilient. And she always forced us to realize the world is a bigger place than us.”

There was a rogues’ gallery parading through the doors – their basement was actually called the Boar’s Den.

There, famous authors would share chairs with anyone from Angolan freedom fighters to … “God knows what.

“It was fun,” she said.

Which is the same thing she said about the entire election campaign on Thursday afternoon, standing outside the party’s headquarters on Fourth Avenue.

She was still wearing that orange scarf.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


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