In an election filled with illusion many Yukoners see the Canada Winter Games as a concrete political accomplishment.
There are doubtlessly votes to be gleaned from the Games come election day on October 10th.
But people involved in the event feel ballots cast for the incumbent Yukon Party government as payoff for the Games’ success are somewhat misplaced.
Premier Dennis Fentie hasn’t hung his campaign on the Games, but he is benefiting from the happenstance that puts him in an election campaign with the Games just around the corner.
“Another major challenge has been to ensure the success of the 2007 Canada Winter Games,” Fentie said in his Imagine Tomorrow election-call speech before the Yukon and Whitehorse chambers of commerce earlier this month.
In August, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Whitehorse, it was Fentie who gave him a tour of the $43 million Canada Games Centre and invited Harper to attend the Games.
He even took a poke at Yukon MP Larry Bagnell (who, many Yukoners believe, secured federal cash to build the centre) after Harper left.
“Mr. Bagnell cannot take credit for the many improvements that this territory is now experiencing because he had sweet tweet to do with it,” Fentie said.
The tension between the two over the centre goes way back.
When his government assumed responsibility for building the athletes’ village in May 2005, Fentie answered a question about his government’s legacies likewise: “I’d call that a legacy,” he said, referring to the Games centre.
With just a little more than two weeks remaining in the election campaign, Fentie and his party enjoy an unrivalled association with the Games.
But Fentie has not balanced that with tributes to those who worked to get the event in the territory in the first place — and that rubs former premier John Ostashek the wrong way.
“I believe Mr. Fentie could and should associate himself with contributing to the Games,” Ostashek, premier from 1992 to 1996 and leader of the Yukon Party between 1992 and 2000, said on Wednesday.
“But I really have a problem with him not mentioning where this all started from.
“It wasn’t him. It wasn’t the Liberal government before him. It wasn’t the NDP government before that.
“It is Bill Brewster, the Yukon Party and our mandate from 1992 to 1996, that are responsible for the Games ever being in the Yukon.”
In 1995, Brewster was minister of Community and Transportation Services.
A supporter of amateur sports, Brewster approached Ostashek with a radical idea.
“He came to me one day and said, ‘What do you think about us trying to get into the hosting cycle for the Canada Winter Games?’” said Ostashek.
“I thought it was great idea, even though we knew that, politically and personally, we weren’t going to get much benefit, because it was years down the road.”
Brewster then pleaded Whitehorse’s case with the Games council in Grand Prairie, Alberta in 1995.
“As a result of that we were awarded the Canada Winter Games for 2007,” Ostashek said.
Ostashek’s Games history meshes with that of the Canada Games Council.
Cities hosting the event rely on work from countless people over many years, Sue Hylland, president of the Canada Games Council, said in a recent interview.
“The Games always start with one crew and end with another. It’s never only a few people … it’s many, many people who create the success,” Hylland said.
Though Ostashek pegs Brewster and 1995 as the beginning, council records say the first mention of Whitehorse holding the Games was made in 1987, Hylland said.
At that time, the rotation system that selects provinces to host the Games didn’t include the northern territories.
Yukon representatives fought to get into the rotation, she said.
Brewster successfully continued that work in 1995, Hylland added.
In the fall of 2000, Whitehorse’s bid for the Games was formally launched, and the council officially awarded the event to the city in June 2002, she said.
Fentie’s Yukon Party government came into power four months later.
Of the Yukon Party government’s role in the Games, Hylland feels the group that starts the Games can’t finish them, and vice versa.
“Both are equally important, and maybe there’s a crew in the middle, too; every stage is equally important,” she said.
“My experience with this current government is that they’ve done an unbelievable coup to get Piers (McDonald, president of the Games host society).
“He’s an absolute perfect pick.”
The athletes’ village has been built under the watch of the Yukon Party government, she added.
But asked if Fentie should campaign on the Games, Hylland was less certain.
“Do I believe they’ve done some great things on these Games? Yes. Does that mean it should be political platform? I really don’t know.”
Historically, much of the battle over the Games has been between Fentie and Bagnell and who got what for the Games Centre.
(Both the feds and the Yukon contributed about $20 million to the building; the city of Whitehorse, about $3 million.)
Though he is not involved in the territorial election and refuses to make critical comments during it, Bagnell feels he has Yukoners onside regarding his work on the Games centre.
“We got a base amount for each territory, plus per capita,” Bagnell said of his lobbying with the feds on the Centre.
When the facility opened last year, both Bagnell and Fentie gave speeches.
Fentie received an average level of applause.
Bagnell received more.
“If you saw when we did the opening, you saw the great cheer I got from Yukoners,” Bagnell said.
“They all know I was responsible.”
Let the games begin.
With files from Graeme McElheran