Former premier Tony Penikett begins a presentation at the Whitehorse Public Library about his book, Hunting the Northern Character, on Dec. 11, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Former premier Tony Penikett begins a presentation at the Whitehorse Public Library about his book, Hunting the Northern Character, on Dec. 11, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Former premier named to Order of Canada

Tony Penikett reflects on career

It came as a complete surprise to former Yukon NDP premier Tony Penikett when he got the call from the Governor General’s office informing him that he would be named to the Order of Canada “for his contributions as a teacher, negotiator and public servant, and his human rights activism”.

He still isn’t sure who nominated him.

“Not a clue,” he said in a Jan. 4 interview when asked if he had any idea who had put his name forward.

While there would traditionally be a Jan. 1 ceremony for new appointments, due to COVID-19 the ceremony for the 61 appointments that were revealed Dec. 30 will happen at a later date.

Penikett was the territory’s first Yukon NDP premier, serving in the role from 1985 to 1992 after becoming the party’s leader in 1981, three years after he was elected as the MLA for Whitehorse West in 1978.

Penikett emphasized the work of his government was done as a group focused on finding the best ways forward. The eight member caucus elected in the 1985 vote was the first in the country where half the members were Indigenous and half were non-Indigenous.

Current Liberal Premier Sandy Silver was quick to release a statement following the Dec. 30 announcement praising Penikett’s work both in government and in other roles.

“Mr. Penikett’s contributions to Yukon include completion of the Umbrella Final Agreement between the (governments) of Yukon, Canada and the Council for Yukon Indians (now the Council of Yukon First Nations),” Silver said. “The Umbrella Final Agreement is a landmark framework for First Nations land claims and self-governance in the territory.

“In his role as a legislator, public servant, advisor, educator, academic and author Mr. Penikett has shown generations of Yukoners and Canadians alike the value and results of hard work and determination, all while maintaining a great sense of humour and compassion.”

Education reform, changes to the territory’s Mental Health Act, environmental legislation and a new Human Rights Act were also among the things done during Penikett’s time as premier.

“We were busy,” Penikett recalled, noting there was a lot of controversy around the Human Rights Act at the time.

In some ways, he said, his government could be seen as trying to do much.

He noted the extensive work of many that went into the Umbrella Final Agreement and land claims negotiations at the time led to “a level of peace and prosperity” largely unseen elsewhere due to other governments and First Nations working on projects together.

He also recalled the Yukon 2000 initiative of his government to consult with Yukoners throughout the territory, finding shared values that helped determine the direction the government took on a variety of measures.

After serving as the territory’s premier Penikett would eventually move to B.C. where he served as a deputy minister in the B.C. government for some time. He has also worked as a university professor, is an author and works as a mediator and negotiator in the private sector.

Throughout that time, he has continued to work on projects involving the North including writing The Northern Character.

Prior to the pandemic, Penikett was part of the 40 @ -40 project, which saw veteran negotiators work to draft a “more readable” document from the Umbrella Final Agreement. In January 2020 he was in the territory for two days of meetings and work on the project that would create a “living document”

Along with the work to draft a nine-page document summarizing the core ideas of the UFA, a website, online discussions and other initiatives around the UFA were also planned as part of the project. Those plans were put on hold due to COVID.

Because the work will likely involve a number of in-person meetings that can’t happen right now due to the pandemic, Penikett said it’s on hold until restrictions can safely be lifted to allow those sessions to happen. He added though he is looking forward to continuing the 40 @ -40 work when it can happen.

Throughout the pandemic, the former Yukon premier has continued to work on his writing and has also been doing a lot of walking.

Asked what has kept him involved in the many projects and efforts over the years, Penikett said even in his younger years he didn’t like to be silent about things he didn’t like.

And that motivated him on a number of initiatives he’s worked on over the years.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Order of Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read