Former Yukon New Democratic Party leader and current Whitehorse Centre MLA Liz Hanson said she won’t run in the next election for Whitehorse Centre after a decade in legislative politics.
“I think politicians need to know when it’s time to leave and it’s time for new directions,” she said during a Zoom press conference announcing her retirement on Jan. 5.
Her departure means a new NDP candidate for the riding will need to be selected prior to the next territorial election. Three potential candidates — Amy Labonte, Kaori Torigai and Emily Tredger — will be vying for the position.
The local riding association will make the decision of when the race starts.
“It’s with mixed emotions — when you put your life in the political area for 10 years — to leave, but I feel so proud and humbled by the caliber of the women putting their names forward,” Hanson said.
Hanson first moved to the Yukon in 1978 with a background in political science and social work. Her 30-year career in the civil service included a leading role on the federal self-government negotiation team until her “first” retirement in 2007.
Two years later, after party leader Todd Hardy resigned from his role due to a struggle with leukemia, Hanson took on leadership of the NDP in 2009. She was originally elected to Whitehorse Centre in a by-election on Dec. 13, 2010.
She was then reelected in 2011, in an election where the NDP formed official opposition, and again in 2016 in a close margin when the party lost most of its seats to the rival Liberals.
She remained in the leadership role until May 2019, before stepping down and handing the role off to Kate White.
“I’m so sad to see her go, but I’m so excited for her to enjoy her second retirement and hopefully this one sticks a little better,” said White.
Liberal MLA Paolo Gallina and Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon offered comments acknowledging her dedication to holding the governments of the day to account.
“Working with her on committees and in the legislative assembly, I always knew to expect well-researched questions that focused on real issues. She continued a long line of principled leaders of the NDP, and while we didn’t always agree, I always knew where she stood,” Gallina said.
“While we often had differing opinions, Liz always had the interests of Yukoners at heart and was a tireless advocate for her constituents,” Dixon said.
Hanson was reluctant to take credit for any particular actions her party has tackled over the past decade, acknowledging that she worked with a team to bring issues forward.
“There’s a series of things, in response to and in listening to citizens, that we were able to get system changes. Those weren’t just because of me but because of the team and efforts of the members of this party,” she said.
Her highlights included leadership on the protection of the Peel and an all-party select committee that looked at hydraulic fracking in the territory. Hanson said “at a time when nobody wanted to have that conservation” the NDP were able to negotiate a temporary cessation.
She also pointed to the demand for a public inquiry that examined the death of five people due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a furnace and chimney that wasn’t properly installed, permitted or inspected. The resulting coroner’s inquest confirmed their death and called into question how building code checks and oil-burner mechanics are regulated in the territory.
Both that inquiry and a similar one into the overdose death of a Yukon nurse were political actions that allowed members of the public to be heard, said Hanson.
“When people come to politicians, that’s usually when they’re at their wit’s end,” she said. “That’s actually an important advocacy role that people forget about. There are big press conferences and meetings and stuff but that’s not the nuts and bolts of making the changes that may affect your life in the future, you know?
“Politicians are not just members of the legislative assembly, they have to be part of the community,” she said. “If that’s a legacy I’d be happy with that.”
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