ohn Edzerza’s decision to leave the Yukon Party and seek the NDP nomination in McIntyre-Takhini for the upcoming territorial election was old news at the Yukon legislature by the time it broke last Wednesday.
“It wasn’t a secret that Mr. Edzerza was having some thoughts about being a member of the Yukon Party,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy, in an interview from Vancouver Friday.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, after Edzerza’s decision had gone public. “I knew it was coming for a long, long time.”
The lack of astonishment following Edzerza’s move illustrates the many political power plays taking place in the lead-up to this year’s territorial election.
Edzerza’s departure from his party and his Justice and Education portfolios marks the fourth Yukon MLA who, in the past year, has either decided — or has been forced — to leave their parties.
But while those moves have made headlines, some say there is still plenty of intrigue taking place behind the scenes.
Last fall Edzerza asked for and received two private meetings with Hardy, said the Yukon NDP leader.
The two discussed Edzerza’s dissatisfaction with his position in the Yukon Party, he said.
“I gave him advice; I made it very clear that we do not support floor crossing,” said Hardy.
Hardy took the discussions back to his party caucus, which at the time included Kluane MLA Gary McRobb and Mayo-Tatchun MLA Eric Fairclough, he said.
The idea of Edzerza immediately joining the NDP was “tempting,” conceded Hardy.
“But that’s not my style and that doesn’t serve democracy,” he said.
After the meetings Edzerza returned to his post and assessed his options, said Hardy.
Then came shock moves.
In the spring, Hardy ejected McRobb and Fairclough from the NDP caucus for having private meetings with Mitchell.
They later joined the Liberal party caucus.
“We all know the unfortunate nature of politics since then,” said Hardy.
“Mr. Mitchell has approached a lot of MLAs to try to get them to floor cross.
“In contrast to how the Liberals operate, we believe very strongly that any elected member, if they wish to switch parties, needs to go back to the people,” Hardy said.
To become a member of the NDP for the next election, Edzerza will have to win a nomination, Hardy added.
That sets the stage for a contested nomination in the McIntyre-Takhini riding.
On Monday, longtime NDP candidate Rachael Lewis announced her intention to seek the party’s nomination in the riding.
In 2000, Lewis ran unsuccessfully for the party in Riverdale-North, and in 2002, she also ran unsuccessfully in her home riding of Southern Lakes.
As he parted ways with the Yukon Party Wednesday, Edzerza announced he too would seek the nomination for the NDP in his home and incumbent riding of McIntyre-Takhini.
Some feel the timing of those announcements is more for political show than anything else.
“It’s all too clever by half,” said Mitchell.
Lewis had only just declared her intention to run in McIntyre-Takhini before Edzerza came along, he said.
“Obviously, if Mr. Edzerza didn’t feel he was going to end up with the nomination I presume he would have simply declared he was going to run as an independent,” he said.
“It’s not very logical that you have meetings with the leader of another party that go back to last fall — which they have — you wouldn’t do that just to be set up to lose.”
Hardy’s missives that the Liberals have been actively recruiting MLAs to floor cross aren’t true, added Mitchell.
“It’s plain and simple: I’m not talking to anybody in the Yukon Party,” he said.
“I’d heard Mr. Edzerza was unhappy, and I didn’t approach him. I’d heard that other people are unhappy and I didn’t approach them either,” he said.
A few MLAs have casually approached him but he hasn’t pursued the matter, he added.
Mitchell refused to elaborate on how many MLAs have approached him or who they were.
Like everyone, Lewis had long heard the rumours that Edzerza wanted to join the NDP.
But her decision to run in McIntyre-Takhini had “nothing to do with Mr. Edzerza,” she said.
“What’s more important is how people of the riding feel, so that’s my focus right now,” said Lewis, in an interview Monday.
“It doesn’t surprise me that anybody who was considering challenging a candidate would come out as soon as possible,” said Lewis.
“Every minute counts in an election.”
The date of the NDP nomination in the McIntyre-Takhini election has yet to be set.