Graham switches teams

Doug Graham wants to be the Yukon Party's candidate for Porter Creek North. The seasoned city councillor and former MLA announced plans to run for the Liberals in the autumn only to now change teams.

Doug Graham wants to be the Yukon Party’s candidate for Porter Creek North.

The seasoned city councillor and former MLA announced plans to run for the Liberals in the autumn only to now change teams.

Yet he’s sticking with his plans to try to knock out the Yukon Party’s Jim Kenyon, who has represented the riding since 2002.

Graham is the third Liberal turncoat to become a potential Yukon Party candidate. But, unlike the rest, he has considered himself to be a “lifelong conservative” who turned to the Liberals because of his dislike of former premier Dennis Fentie’s deficit-spending ways.

“I’m a believer that as little debt as possible is a good thing,” said Graham.

Looking back at his plans to run as a Liberal, “I probably rushed into something without sitting back and really thinking about it,” he said.

Graham credits his long friendship with Premier Darrell Pasloski as a big motivation to switch sides. He met Pasloski playing baseball more than two decades ago, and their two families regularly fish and snowmobile together.

“We’ve been really close for a number of years. It would have been really difficult for me to run against him. Most of my family, including my wife, took out Conservative memberships to vote for him when he ran for leader.”

Many observers see Pasloski as a softer touch than Fentie on social issues. But Graham also sees Pasloski as a thriftier spender.

“He has a social conscience. But he also knows these things will be paid for.”

As for Graham’s taking on of Kenyon, he professed to be “stunned” that Kenyon planned to seek another term, after an unsuccessful bid to become the Yukon Party’s new leader.

“I guess that shows what kind of person Darrell is – he’s trying to be inclusive,” said Graham.

Kenyon, for his part, said Graham’s switch of parties was “humorous” and offered some advice: “There are a number of seats that we don’t hold that it might be better for him to run in,” said Kenyon. “But that’s his choice.”

Graham has no plans to vie for another riding. “I’ve lived here all my life, just about. This is where my family lives.”

Kenyon is currently minister responsible for Yukon Energy. He used to hold a much bigger portfolio, as minister responsible for Economic Development and the liquor, lottery and housing corporations.

But Kenyon was sacked from cabinet, in one of Fentie’s last moves as premier, after Kenyon publicly criticized Fentie’s role in the ATCO energy privatization scandal.

A few weeks later, Pasloski invited Kenyon back to cabinet in his new, diminished role.

Graham, 61, is best-known today as a city councillor, a role he’s played for the past 12 years. But he was also once the territory’s Justice and Education minister in the late 1970s, until he became caught-up in a land fraud investigation three years into his term.

It came to light that the RCMP had wire-tapped Graham’s office while they investigated his acquaintance, Barry Bellchambers. He would eventually be charged with obstruction of justice and breach of trust.

It was alleged Graham had leaked to Bellchambers confidential information about his case – accusations Graham denies. The charges were eventually stayed.

But, by then, Graham had resigned. “You can’t be investigated the same time you’re Justice minister,” he said.

“I didn’t come back to any kind of politics for almost 25 years. I learned a lot. We’ll leave it at that.”

He’d prefer to talk about his ideas about education. He recently retired from a post with Yukon College, after 29 years.

He laments how a big chunk of college admissions are seeking to upgrade their high school marks. “That’s tragic,” he said. “It’s a waste of time for those students, and it’s a waste of resources for the college.”

Graham sees Yukon’s lacklustre attendance rates as a big reason why the territory lags the rest of the country in test results. “It doesn’t matter what we plan to do with these kids, if they aren’t in school, they can’t learn.”

And he suspects the solution lies in improving education in the early grades, and ensuring parents feel they’re playing an important role in schooling.

Graham says he had a role, during his time as Education minister, in starting the Yukon’s French immersion programs and in endowing the college with the land it today possesses.

He’s also interested in seeing the territory update its Municipal Act. He’d like to see more clarity over what responsibilities belong to municipalities.

To wit: affordable housing is the job of the territory, he said. Yet, “right now, you have people who believe the city should get involved in things we have no funding for, and are territorial responsibilities we should stay away from.”

He’s opposed to seeing the Municipal Act strengthen the reach of municipal referendums. A push to protect McLean Lake through the creation of a referendum-created park eventually died in the courts.

“We have a referendum every three years,” said Graham. “It’s called an election.”

He recalls how nearly every sitting city councillor was turfed following the decision to build Walmart in its present spot. “That’s what we should be looking at, rather than referendums, when you have 12 per cent, or 10 per cent of the people voting. That’s just ridiculous. Those referendums are just a waste of time.”

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