Elizabeth Hanson is the new face of the Yukon New Democratic Party.
She won’t be sworn as in party leader until September 26, but as Hanson is the sole candidate to put her name forward by Friday’s deadline, the leadership convention will be nothing more than an acclamation.
With the Yukon Party government embroiled in controversy and tumbling in the polls, Hanson hopes to makes gains for the NDP, which currently only holds two seats.
She’s heard much “outright anger” expressed by Yukoners who have soured to Premier Dennis Fentie’s take-it-or-leave-it style of governance, she said.
“Yukoners don’t want to be told. They want to be engaged,” said Hanson.
“The government has moved so far away from citizens. It’s demonstrated a day-in, day-out lack of accountability and transparency. And, most fundamentally, has discarded the most basic element of trust,” she said.
“And when we can’t trust our politicians to respect us as individuals and to respect the issues that are so important to us, then we have a real challenge.”
Hanson worked as a federal civil servant for more than 30 years, 20 of which were spent in the Yukon. Her career gave her an intimate understanding of the history of Yukon’s land-claim deals, but little in the way of electioneering.
She got a taste of campaigning when her daughter recently ran in a provincial election in Alberta, but the past month required a “huge learning curve,” and much remains for her to learn, she said.
Hanson has no seat in the legislature, so she will have to watch sittings from the gallery for now.
But she may well challenge Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell for his seat in the next election. Her home is in Mitchell’s riding of Hillcrest, formerly Copper Ridge.
Todd Hardy, the party’s leader, has no plans to vacate his seat. Doing so would cede power to Premier Dennis Fentie, who would decide when the byelection would be held within six months, said Hardy.
“Why would I hand over to Fentie control over the election? He can pick and choose. Right now the NDP has more control,” he said.
The party is stronger with two sitting MLAs and a leader without a seat than it would be if Hardy stepped down, he said.
“We have a caucus of three,” said Hardy. “We feel the party is a lot stronger now with another member in it.”
Hardy has leukemia. When he announced that he would give up the party leadership in February, it was widely believed that he would give up his seat as well.
But he says his health has improved over the summer, enough so that he’s toying with the idea of running for one more term.
Hanson and Hardy don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. She has called on MLAs to try to work with the current government before defeating it, in response to Mitchell’s recent calls for an autumn territorial election.
Hardy, meanwhile, has said he’s ready to bring down the government with a nonconfidence vote, because he’s tried without success to work with Fentie’s cabinet for years.
On this, the two agree to disagree.
MLAs “have a responsibility to make the government work,” said Hanson. “And that means engaging in positive ways the really important issues that are facing the Yukon.”
Hanson won’t tell Hardy how to vote, she said.
“If it comes to it and there’s a motion for nonconfidence, it will be up to members in the House to vote with their conscience.”
The NDP’s other MLA, Steve Cardiff, had announced his candidacy for the leadership, only to pull out just days before Hanson entered the race in August.
Cardiff insists he wasn’t pressured into pulling out of the race, which he left for undisclosed “personal reasons.”
“There was nothing internal that forced me to step aside at that time,” he said. “It wasn’t the right time.”
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