Fentie calls for October 10 vote

Todd Hardy sat in his hospital bed in Vancouver on Friday, listening to Bob Dylan. His chemotherapy was going well.

Todd Hardy sat in his hospital bed in Vancouver on Friday, listening to Bob Dylan.

His chemotherapy was going well. The previous day his doctors told him they couldn’t find a single leukemia cell in his body.

Friday morning, Hardy had been to an audience with the Dalai Lama, who was visiting Vancouver.

Hardy was planning to attend another address from His Holiness on Saturday when he got word that Premier Dennis Fentie had called for an election writ and a polling date of Tuesday, October 10, the day after Thanksgiving.

The news came as something of a surprise.

“I would be fooling myself if I said I wasn’t disappointed in Mr. Fentie,” Hardy, leader of the Yukon New Democratic Party, said on Friday.

“It’s obviously very much a political decision.

“There’s probably a lot of pressure on Mr. Fentie, from his own party and many other people, to pull the plug and go for it.

“The political pressure probably outweighed the compassionate side.

“This is not a criticism of Mr. Fentie. It’s his call, and he’s making a judgment call based on winning an election.”

Fentie had been quietly nurturing his election plans when Hardy was diagnosed with cancer on August 9.

Fentie visited Hardy in Vancouver on August 25 to assess his condition.

“Considering his very difficult health situation, there’s absolutely no guarantees that if we waited until November 4, Mr. Hardy would be able to conduct a campaign,” Fentie said Friday after announcing the election to more than 100 business and political leaders gathered at the High Country Inn for a luncheon hosted by the Yukon and Whitehorse chambers of commerce.

“The decision he makes in regard to this will be his to make alone,” said Fentie.

“Our decision was made in the public interest.”

Targeting the hastily organized chamber luncheon to launch the election was a strategic move on Fentie’s part.

A month ago, officials mused about a luncheon for Fentie. But the plans never progressed to anything concrete.

Then, around the time Fentie visited Hardy, the premier’s office approached the chamber and asked it to organize a luncheon with Fentie as keynote speaker.

That gave Fentie a slight edge over Opposition leader Arthur Mitchell, who is scheduled to address the Whitehorse  Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

“It’s very appropriate for me to make this announcement in front of the business community of this territory who elected us and supported us in 2002 to turn this economy around and make sure that businesses are more vibrant, profitable and growing,” said Fentie.

But the timing hurts Hardy, who will be absent for most of the election campaign.

“Normally, I would have another 20-some days of treatment, which would take up to whatever time,” he said.

“I’m going to ask (the doctors) to start the next treatment as fast as possible and see if we can accelerate it and see if there’s anything we can do in the Yukon, and be up there to lead the NDP at least into the more important part of the campaign.”

Despite his convalescence, Hardy managed a little electioneering of his own.

“(Fentie) has got to take me on,” he said.

“We have probably a more diverse group of candidates than any party, from many walks of life.

“Frankly, I think there’s really only two visions here, clearly: the NDP’s and the Yukon Party’s.

“That’s going to be the battleground.”

Mitchell took the election announcement as an opportunity to unveil his Liberal party’s campaign slogan: “Putting People First.”

“Over the last four years we’ve seen people left behind in health care, in education, in child care, so over the next month, we’ll put forward a positive plan for the future,” Mitchell said.

“I think it all comes down to ethics and integrity.

“I personally believe that honesty and integrity and high ethical standards are the most important things a government can offer its citizens.

“As premier, I would put higher ethical standards at the top my priority list.”

During his chamber address Fentie argued that the Yukon electorate’s tradition of denying governments a second term has led to economic instability in the past.

“The other parties mean well, but they offer a different direction,” he said.

“They offer more of the misguided thinking that created the problems of the past that we have all spent four years to resolve.”

Fentie tried to bolster his party’s social-welfare image with a speech that used the word “imagine” so often, it sounded like a John Lennon parody.

“Imagine a tomorrow where our children are not faced with crack houses and drug dealers in their own neighbourhoods,” he said.

“Our government will be taking a zero-tolerance approach in dealing with those who propagate the social ills of substance abuse and prey on others.

“My message to those individuals is this: leave the Yukon now or you will be caught in the crosshairs of enforcement and justice.”

Fentie’s tough-on-drug-crime rhetoric was met by a round of applause led by Yukon Party stalwart Dan Lang.

But Fentie enters the election hobbled by defections and caucus scandals that were more serious than those suffered by his Liberal predecessor, Pat Duncan.

Like Duncan, Fentie lost three MLAs from caucus.

First to go was backbencher Haakon Arntzen, who was charged with indecent assault for alleged sex crimes committed in the 1970s, and convicted in Yukon Supreme Court in May 2005.

Arntzen was expelled from the Yukon Party caucus when he was first charged in 2004, but Fentie defended Arntzen’s right to appeal and denied public and opposition pressure to ask for Arntzen’s resignation from the legislative assembly, even after he’d been convicted.

Then came Peter Jenkins’ ouster in November 2005.

Pressure over Jenkins’ unpaid government loan, which was worth more than $300,000, mounted on Fentie from the day Jenkins was sworn into cabinet.

But, when the government filed documents against its own deputy premier in Yukon Supreme Court, Jenkins was forced out of the Yukon Party ranks, though the precise details of his expulsion remain clouded.

And then, in August, Education Minister John Edzerza quit the Yukon Party, citing its shortcomings on the social agenda and its  decision to ignore his perspective.

Edzerza’s departure was damaging because he was Fentie’s sole First Nations member in caucus.

It takes political will to weather such challenges, said Fentie.

“We have demonstrated that we do not deviate.

“We stuck to our plan. No matter what has come our way, we will not be deflected.”

Yukon Party veteran Vicki Durrant will run for Edzerza’s seat in McIntyre-Takhini, which he is defending under the NDP banner.

Jerry Johnson announced Friday his intention to seek the Yukon Party nomination in Hardy’s riding, Whitehorse Centre, and William Josie will represent the party in Vuntut Gwitchin.

The Yukon Party has announced prospective candidates in 17 of the Yukon’s 18 ridings.

With veteran community volunteer Colleen Wirth seeking the Liberal nomination in Mount Lorne, Mike Walton, a Parks Canada manger, seeking a Liberal nod in Whitehorse West and Bernie Phillips ready to run in Whitehorse Centre, the Liberals have 16 ridings covered.

So far the NDP have announced prospective candidates in 12 ridings.

All would-be candidates, including independents, have until 2 p.m. on September 18 to submit $200 and 25 signatures from constituents of their targeted ridings to returning officers.

The Yukon Party will run its campaign out of the former MicroAge computer store at Elliott Street and Third Avenue, while the Liberals have rented space in the Qwanlin Mall.

The NDP are in the former Unitech building at the junction of Second Avenue and Two Mile Hill.