Pat Duncan is quitting politics.
The former premier and former Yukon Liberal Party leader sent a newsletter to her Porter Creek South constituents on Monday, explaining her decision not to seek re-election in the upcoming territorial election and thanking them for their support.
“It was a tough decision,” Duncan, 46, said in an interview Tuesday.
“It isn’t a single factor, there are a number of factors. It’s time.”
Duncan cited a desire to spend more time with her family and a need to take care of her health by reducing stress as reasons for her decision.
“I’m aging and I’d like to be more fit. I’d like to be sure I have that hour every day to engage in physical fitness.”
She’s also enrolled in a master of public administration program at the University of Southeast Alaska, offered through Yukon College.
“I have no regrets about my decision.”
First elected in September 1996 in a “Tory stronghold,” Duncan is one of the Yukon’s longest-serving MLAs.
Her 10-year stint in office is currently matched only by newly anointed Liberal colleagues Eric Fairclough and Gary McRobb, Klondike MLA Peter Jenkins and Premier Dennis Fentie.
A federal Progressive Conservative in her formative years, Duncan worked as an assistant to former Yukon MP Eric Nielsen, who was deputy prime minister to Brian Mulroney.
The Yukon Party replaced the territorial Progressive Conservatives in the late 1980s, but Duncan never joined the party.
“I’m a centrist in the political spectrum,” she said.
“I’m a free enterpriser with a social conscience. The Yukon Party is too far right on the political spectrum for me.”
Duncan was the first woman premier of the territory and the first woman to win the Liberal leadership, which she did in 1998.
She led the Liberals to power in 2000, defeating Piers McDonald and the NDP.
“The two big issues on my desk were land claims and devolution,” said Duncan.
Fentie wound up signing several land claim agreements, “but I feel very proud of the work we did and our government did, getting the land claims to that point,” said Duncan.
The Duncan government lasted two-and-a-half years, about half of its mandate. It was crippled after Don Roberts, Mike McLarnon and Wayne Jim were expelled from caucus.
The ‘three amigos’ crossed the floor of the legislature to sit as an independent opposition.
With a slim nine-seat majority reduced to six seats, Duncan’s government became a minority. Rather than release a capital budget during the autumn 2002 sitting of the legislative assembly for a vote the Liberals could not win, Duncan called an election.
The Liberals lost five of their remaining seats, with Duncan left standing as the only Liberal with a seat.
Liberal fortunes rebounded over the course of 2005 and 2006, with the election of party leader Arthur Mitchell, who replaced Duncan, and his acceptance of Fairclough and McRobb as Liberals.
But the Liberals will have to find someone else to run in Porter Creek South in an election expected by November.
Mitchell was not surprised by Duncan’s decision.
“I knew that she had been really wrestling with this decision for many months,” said Mitchell, who wrested the leadership from Duncan in June 2005 before winning his seat in the November 2005 Copperbelt byelection.
“Naturally I encouraged her, as our whole caucus did, to run one more time, because we really value her experience and her dedication that she brings to the job,” said Mitchell.
“But I understand her decision. It didn’t come as a shock.
“I think all Yukoners owe a debt to Pat in terms of public service she has offered over the last decade as an MLA, and years before that in other arenas.
“She really defines what it means to be a constituents’ MLA.”
Duncan hasn’t left the Liberals and will continue to campaign for the party during the fall election, he added.
The Yukon Party and the Yukon New Democratic Party have not yet announced candidates for Porter Creek South.