Frank de Jong has big shoes to fill.
The Yukon’s Green Party candidate had only been living in the territory for a few months when he decided to seek the party’s nomination for this federal election.
He’s taken up the torch from John Streicker, who garnered 19 per cent of the Yukon vote in the 2011 election, the second-best showing in Canada after Party Leader Elizabeth May. After Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell narrowly lost to Conservative Ryan Leef in that election, Streicker was widely accused of having split the vote. In 2014, Streicker announced he wouldn’t run again.
“Because of strategic voting primarily, he thought he would be vilified if he ran again,” de Jong said. “But I have no such worry, because it’s up to the voters to make those decisions. And I think it’s important that the Green voice be heard.”
By the looks of things, de Jong needn’t worry too much about stealing votes from other parties. A recent poll showed him with only about four per cent support in the territory, and he has a number of factors working against him.
He’s now been in the Yukon for just 14 months, and he lives in Faro, far from the population centre. He’s relatively unknown, and thanks to his teaching position, he wasn’t able to make it to Whitehorse until about three weeks ago. He’s flying to Old Crow for the first time on Saturday.
Then, too, there are people’s memories of what happened last time around.
“I’ve talked to tons of people who’ve said, ‘Oh, I voted Green last time and I wish I could this time, but I can’t,’” he said. “You can’t say much to them. You have to respect it. And I do respect it.”
But, he cautioned, people should recognize that if they cast strategic ballots for the Liberals, they’ll be voting for Bill C-51 and for pipeline development. “They’re going to hate themselves in the morning.”
De Jong may be new to the Yukon, but he’s not new to politics. He was the leader of the Ontario Green Party from 1993 until 2008, and he’s run in federal elections in Ontario before, though not since 1997.
He said he’s always been fascinated by northern Canada. “I always wanted to teach in northern Canada. That was sort of in the back of my mind for decades, but I never got around to it. And then I finally applied and Faro chose me.”
De Jong seems to have run his campaign as a teacher more than a politician. He’s used the many candidates forums in Whitehorse to try and explain his ideas on taxation, affordable housing, and proportional representation – no easy feat when each candidate is given just a minute or two to speak on any given issue.
The Green Party favours a carbon tax that would pay monthly dividends to citizens, and promises to eliminate income tax for anyone making less than $20,000 a year. But de Jong takes that several steps further. He’d like to eliminate all income, sales, and corporate taxes, instead shifting the entire tax burden onto the “use and abuse of nature.”
“Right now, our tax structure discourages employment and it encourages wasting resources,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense taxing jobs. Corporate taxes are a dead-weight tax.”
As a Green Party candidate, de Jong has the luxury of straying from his party’s platform more or less at will. Though he supports the party’s plan to eliminate post-secondary tuition and establish a universal guaranteed income, he sees himself as more fiscally conservative than many of his party’s candidates.
“I think the Green Party should be a centrist party, whereas a lot of Greens are rather left-wing,” he said. “And I don’t agree with that.”
He also has the luxury of not really needing to compete. Instead, he treats his fellow candidates with refreshing equanimity. “Ryan Leef’s a nice guy,” he said. “I talk to him a lot. He’s a good man, he’s compassionate, he knows the Yukon really well.
“He cares deeply about the Yukon. That’s obvious with every word he says.”
And on Larry Bagnell’s decision to backtrack on his opposition of the long-gun registry, which de Jong also opposes: “That must have been hugely frustrating for him. He must have felt terrible about that.”
This is not a candidate who is in this election to win it. But de Jong hopes that Green Party candidates will face better odds the next time around, if a new government implements some kind of proportional representation. He insists that he’s always wanted to be elected.
“I would have loved to have been,” he said. “And I don’t know if I ever will.”
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