Fentie relishes victory, plans for future

WATSON LAKE As the CBC television crew packed up its gear, word spread around the Belvedere Hotel that smoking was now allowed indoors.


As the CBC television crew packed up its gear, word spread around the Belvedere Hotel that smoking was now allowed indoors.

The cameras were off. The ashtrays came out. Folks lit up.

Smoke’em if you got’em.

Drinks were bought and toasts were made.

The 2006 general election was over, and Dennis Fentie, premier again, sat down to a well-deserved glass of red wine.

His Yukon Party had just won a second mandate — the first Yukon government in more than 17 years to do so.

With a 10-5-3 split of the territory’s 18 seats, the Yukon Party had a second majority slated to last five years, barring any shifts that plagued its first four years in office, on both sides of the house.

“I’m glad the campaign is over because it was a tough one, a grind, there were no gimmes here,” said Fentie, 56, who was elected as Watson Lake’s MLA for the fourth time Tuesday, with 495 votes, or 64.8 per cent — a higher percentage than he won in 2002.

The month-long campaign brought dissidents of varying stripes clamouring for voters to toss his government from office.

Besides traditional foes like the Liberals and New Democrats, Fentie bore the brunt of campaigns from non-governmental organizations, such as the Yukon Federation of Labour and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society that hammered away at perceived deficits of the Yukon Party’s first term.

Even the Liard First Nation in Fentie’s own backyard called for his ouster.

“It was the toughest one yet because this was the biggest target I’ve ever had on my back,” he said.

There was no question in Fentie’s mind that the Yukon’s surging economy was a key factor in the Yukon Party victory.

“The results, I think, are clear,” he said.

“It’s an illustration by the public that they wanted stability.

“And that is something quite significant here, because that has not been the result of any election since 1989.

“I couldn’t be more gratified with the result.”

Whitehorse is experiencing a construction boom. At least one major mine, at Minto, is scheduled to open next year.

Recent unemployment statistics peg the Yukon jobless at 4.9 per cent of the population.

Communities like Watson Lake are still struggling economically, but turnarounds take time.

“We’ve been in a downturn here for many, many years,” said Fentie.

“To start the trend that we have and continue it, it takes a while.

“It goes back to the results of the election. A lot of Yukoners recognized that to keep this direction going there needs to be political stability, and that became a fundamental ingredient of the election and the results.”

A returned government will encourage more investment, he said.

“This election and the outcome will strengthen investor confidence in the Yukon.”

The Yukon Party achieved the objective of its first mandate: to bring stability to governmental finances, said Fentie.

“We are maintaining money in the bank and we are keeping in reserve Yukon’s future,” he said.

“Our intention is not to spend more than we take in.”

That said, it’s time for act two: social improvements.

There are several initiatives highlighted in the successful Yukon Party platform: educational reform that wasn’t completed during the first mandate; an integrated primary health-care facility in Whitehorse; and money and programs for children with severe disabilities, to name a few.

“Those are all demonstrations of a social conscience,” said Fentie.

“But we’re still going to work on the environmental side of things.

“One of our first focuses will be the establishment of a research and development centre of excellence with (Yukon) college (for) cold climate research and climate change research for an ability for us to develop adaptation measures.”

But Fentie vowed fiscal prudence would remain the backbone of his government.

“In the first mandate we stimulated with government investment.

“Now we want to have the investment community complement government investment.

“Investment is increasing from the private sector.

“We must nurture that. We must allow that to continue to grow.”

Five more years of the Yukon Party won’t necessarily make the territory a magnet for pipelines or railroads — that’s up to the private sector — but mines will burgeon, if Fentie’s plan works.

“The mining sector will drive a huge percentage of the Yukon economy, because of the demand for the type of resources that we have.”

As the victory party wound down, supporters stopped on their way out to congratulate him with hugs and handshakes.

“We did it, we got a majority.”

“We knew we had it in the bag.”

Though the election was tight, Fentie didn’t contemplate how he would have cobbled together a minority government, or with whom.

“I don’t tend to worry,” he said.

“I just tend to focus.”