Greetham hangs up her political hat

A small crowd of people sat glued to the televisions inside Sam N Andy’s restaurant in downtown Whitehorse Monday night.

A small crowd of people sat glued to the televisions inside Sam N Andy’s restaurant in downtown Whitehorse Monday night.

They were from many different walks of life — government employees, blue-collar business owners, even Yukon Party politicians — roughly 20 people, united under the Conservative Party banner.

Periodically a cheer would erupt as prominent Liberals were defeated by the Conservative stream that wended its way across Canada.

“Alcock is losing!” someone crowed.

“Pettigrew is out!” said another.

The CBC newscast wasn’t even bothering to broadcast the rolling results from Alberta until the province turned a complete Tory blue.

“The Liberals lost both of the Alberta seats!”

“Yes!”

“Ha ha!”

A Conservative win seemed imminent, as it had for most of the 2005-06 federal campaign.

“If they kill the gun registry I’m gonna have a frickin’ party.”

Preliminary results from the Yukon were greeted with cheers as well.

Conservative candidate Sue Greetham was winning. She took the poll in Destruction Bay. Her picture flashed briefly on the right side of the TV screen.

But fortunes soon changed, as they have so many times for would-be Yukon politicians.

The Conservative lead was as brief as it had been in June 2004, when James Hartle won a few minutes of glory before Liberal Party incumbent Larry Bagnell whipped past, and never looked back.

History may not have been repeating everywhere in the country, but for Yukon Conservatives the election was deja vu.

Those gathered around Greetham stopped cheering whenever CBC rolled the Yukon results.

Instead, they started approaching her discreetly, sidling over to shake hands and murmur congratulations for fighting the good fight.

“It’s been a pleasure working with you, and I’d be glad to do it again.”

Greetham took it all in stride.

“I was proud to represent Conservatives in the territory,” she said, her ever-present smile firmly intact.

“I hope that Larry accepts the Conservative numbers and takes a lot of the issues that were brought up throughout the campaign to Ottawa on behalf of Yukoners,” she said.

“I hope he listens to Yukoners very strongly, when there are votes and free votes, so Yukoners can feel confident they’ll be represented strongly.”

Even if Greetham would never have won, she ran as if she could.

Facing a powerful incumbent and a veteran NDP candidate, Greetham scratched together a campaign mid-December, two full weeks after the federal government fell on a non-confidence vote in Ottawa.

She built a campaign team seemingly out of nothing, giving local Conservatives a credible alternative to Bagnell.

With only four weeks to find votes between Christmas and election day, Greetham visited most Yukon communities and attended public meetings, using the Conservative Party platform as a policy guide.

She only started knocking on Whitehorse doors last week. Too little, too late.

Greetham came third, with 23.6 per cent of the vote.

Bagnell took almost 50 per cent.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives made gains. Greetham won 3,341 votes, 750 more than Hartle took in 2004.

She won six polls in Monday’s counts: Destruction Bay, Beaver Creek, Champagne, one in Takhini, one in Watson Lake and Johnson’s Crossing, where her popularity swelled among tourism operators in the Southern Lakes.

Granted, the polls Greetham won totaled 183 votes.

Still, she almost came second, finishing just 25 votes behind New Democrat Pam Boyde.

Whether or not the 2.3-per-cent bump in Conservative fortunes is attributable to Greetham’s campaign is debatable.

The national trend kindled core support for the party in the Yukon, and on some levels Greetham’s campaign didn’t matter.

Take Destruction Bay, where Greetham won the only poll with 18 votes, even though she never visited the community.

Yukon Conservatives are awake, and they’re hungry, said party executive Chuck Buchanan.

“What we’ve done here today should be encouraged,” said Buchanan, who had asked Greetham to run back in December.

“We saw momentum near the end of the campaign.

“At first, our team was not together, and we weren’t prepared. There was a serious learning curve for a lot of us with something we didn’t have any experience in.

“Now, we’ve got a strong group of intelligent people.”

The results weren’t unexpected, though Buchanan would have preferred Greetham placed second.

But the competition was stiff, and it was more important for the Conservatives to field a strong candidate than to win, he said.

Conservatives had to “regroup” after the collapse following the reign of former leader Brian Mulroney, said Buchanan.

Now it’s the Liberals’ turn, he said.

“We’ll be going back to the polls within a couple of years. I’d encourage Sue to run again.”

But she won’t.

Having thrown her hat in the political arena, Greetham is now hanging it up.

“I’m not qualified as a politician,” she said.

“Politics is much different than business. Business is black and white; you’re dealing with facts, you’re dealing with truths.

“Politics is a moving object. It’s constantly alive, constantly changing.”

And constantly cutthroat.

Greetham prefers win-win scenarios that can be found in business dealings, where everyone involved winds up happy.

“Politics isn’t that — it’s not based on that concept,” she said.

“There’s an awful lot of emotion and a lot of interpretations, which I find difficult.

“I know I put my foot in my mouth a couple of times, and it wasn’t intentional. When I found out how it was received, I was quite disappointed. I was really disappointed.

“So maybe I don’t have a thick enough skin.”

Gaffes regarding isolation post allowances for federal employees and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may have cost Greetham some votes.

She’ll find out if she can serve the party better behind the scenes, where people aren’t “taking shots” at her, where she can focus on the party platform in which she so fervently believes.

The campaign was “too much of me,” said Greetham.

“It was the Conservative Party, in my mind, when I did it. And then it turned out to be me, here.

“What a concept.”

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