Conservatives pick cage fighter as candidate

Ryan Leef is ready to rumble as the Conservative’s candidate for the Yukon in the May 2 federal election. Leef, 37, is the assistant superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Ryan Leef is ready to rumble as the Conservative’s candidate for the Yukon in the May 2 federal election.

Leef, 37, is the assistant superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre, but he’s better known as a long-distance runner who recently became a kickboxing cage fighter.

He won the nomination of Yukon Conservatives on Saturday, beating out Gerrard Fleming, a Northwestel salesman.

With that, Leef launched into an altogether different sort of endurance sport, in which success is often gauged by the number of doors banged on, hands shaken and babies kissed.

Leef knows he faces a formidable opponent: Yukon’s long-standing and well-liked Liberal MP, Larry Bagnell, runs a relentless campaign.

But Leef expects to see Conservatives form the next government. And he insists it’s better to have a member of Parliament who sits with the government, rather than the opposition.

Leef also expects Bagnell will face many tough questions from Yukoners unhappy with his whipped vote in favour of keeping the long-gun registry. Bagnell has long opposed the registry, but he’s also made it clear he won’t quit his party over it.

The Conservative government toppled on March 25 after opposition parties declared it to be in contempt of Parliament for not disclosing the costs of its tough-on-crime agenda, among other spending items.

But this election is really about the economy, said Leef. The Conservatives continue to poll ahead of their rivals, he said.

“They certainly haven’t lost the confidence of Canadians.”

Leef asserts the best way to keep the good times rolling would be to give Conservatives a majority. “Canadians don’t need to be looking over their shoulders over the next four years, saying, ‘Will there be an election?’”

Leef hopes to persuade apathetic youth to get out and vote. He’s spoken to plenty of them since declaring his intention to seek the Conservative nomination in January.

He’s also heard many express concern about climate change. On that portfolio, he’ll have a hard time matching the credentials of John Streicker, the Green Party’s candidate, who is a climate change expert. But Leef touts his experience as a conservation officer as a way of relating to people’s environmental concerns.

Leef’s parents moved to Dawson City when he was nine. He graduated from FH Collins in Whitehorse.

Leef worked as an investigator for Yukon’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods unit, which builds cases to evict drug dealers, before taking his present job at the jail.

Earlier, he worked as an RCMP officer and conservation officer in the territory. He also helped operate Ruby Range Outfitters.

A sheep hunt he helped lead in the autumn of 2007 in Kluane resulted in a court case, in which Leef and his outfitting company were accused of driving ATVs through a protected area and falsely reporting information to officials. Leef eventually received an absolute discharge, after a Supreme Court judge deemed that he made an honest mistake.

Leef doesn’t do things in half measures. A basic self-defence class he took as a conservation officer led to him holding a black belt in goshin ryu tai jutsu.

He teaches self-defence courses in town, including an annual clinic for Victoria Faulkner Women’s Shelter Centre.

He’s fought, and lost, two professional mixed martial arts matches. For now, he’s hung up his gloves. Politics is “a far greater role, for a far greater purpose,” he said.

He’ll probably stay fit by jogging during the campaign. He may even mountain bike door to door, if the balmy weather holds up.

The federal NDP will name their Yukon candidate tonight. So far, two candidates have announced their plans to run.

Kevin Barr is one. He’s a social worker, addictions counsellor and Juno-nominated musician who ran as an NDP candidate for Southern Lakes in the last territorial election.

Alex Furlong is the other. He’s the president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.

Contact John Thompson at