Doug Graham, Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek North and the territory’s education minister, has announced he will not be seeking re-election this year.
Graham says he likely won’t return to territorial politics, though he is interested in running for city council in the future.
“My wife and I have no intentions of leaving the territory. We’re going to retire and … I would like to have a lower workload so I can spend more time with her and the grandchildren,” he said. “I’m really not interested in a full-time position anywhere anymore.”
Graham’s political career spans several decades. He was first elected to the legislature in 1978, during Yukon’s first election with political parties. He represented Whitehorse Porter Creek West until 1982 for the Progressive Conservative Party, which later became the Yukon Party.
Graham later moved into municipal politics, and sat on city council from 2000 until he was re-elected to the legislature in 2011 for Porter Creek North.
Since then, he has served first as health and social services minister, and has been education minister since January 2015.
Looking back over his career, Graham said one of his greatest achievements was helping to bring French immersion programs to the territory during his first term as an MLA.
More recently, he said, he’s proud of the work he’s done to prepare for an overhaul of Yukon’s school curriculum.
He said the new curriculum will include a greater emphasis on First Nations culture and languages. Already, last fall the government rolled out a new unit on residential schools to be taught to all Grade 10 students.
Graham said he thinks the major curriculum changes will take place in the next two years.
He also referred to the Whistle Bend continuing care facility as one of his biggest accomplishments as health minister. Construction began on the controversial facility last month.
“I just think that that is something that is needed in our community,” he said. “It’s absolutely essential that we get working on it, because by the time it’s ready in two years, the current nursing homes in Whitehorse are going to be completely inundated.”
Graham made headlines last September when he showed up at a charged town-hall meeting hosted by the NDP and conceded that the location of the new facility in Whistle Bend is “not that good.” Critics of the facility have argued that the centre is too large and will be isolated in an undeveloped community far from downtown Whitehorse.
Today, Graham stands by his comments about the location.
“I said it then and I’d say it again. It wasn’t the best,” he said. “But all of the other places that we looked at had even bigger drawbacks than did Whistle Bend.”
He said people had similar concerns before the Copper Ridge facility was built, but that centre ended up at the heart of a thriving community. He believes the same will be true of Whistle Bend.
“People have a tendency to cry wolf,” he said. “Anybody that says we could have built it downtown doesn’t know what they’re talking about, quite frankly. They’re wrong.”
As education minister, Graham has also presided over negotiations between the Yukon government and the French school board over the construction of a new francophone high school.
The school board sued the government in 2009, claiming it hadn’t been protecting minority language rights. The Yukon Supreme Court sided with the school board, but the decision was later overturned. The two parties are now working together to avoid going back to court.
Last month, the government announced that the new school could be built on the site of the old F.H. Collins Secondary School. For the previous year, the proposed site had been the Second Haven Skatepark in Riverdale.
But Graham said traffic would likely be worse if the school were built at the skate park site, because buses would be turning immediately after crossing the bridge into Riverdale.
“You couldn’t do it unless you added at least a third lane to the bridge, and that would mean you’d have to then double-track the boulevard into Riverdale,” he said. “And that was an expense that we just couldn’t see.”
Graham said what he regrets most from his time in office are the court cases the government is involved in, including the lawsuit from the French school board and the Peel watershed dispute. But he claims that neither of those cases would have ended up in court if the current government had been in power before the issues came to a head.
“Especially on the Peel, we would have made our intentions known sooner,” he said. “And that seems to be the big sticking point.”
Still, Graham said he believes Yukoners will rally to the Yukon Party in this year’s election. He said the Yukon Party has shown that it’s capable of managing the economy.
“I’m predicting that they will be the government again, but then, you know, I’m saying that from a bit of a prejudiced point of view,” he said.
Graham said he will support whomever becomes the Yukon Party candidate in Porter Creek North. On Thursday, Geraldine Van Bibber announced that she plans to seek the nomination. Francis van Kessel is seeking the nomination for the NDP, while the Liberals have yet to announce a potential candidate for the riding.
Graham said he plans to do more running and to play hockey as he moves out of territorial politics. He and his wife are also looking for a place downtown.
“It’s been a wonderful experience these last five years and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
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