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Hardy steps down

For the first time in his life, Todd Hardy has admitted defeat. The NDP leader stepped down on Thursday. "When I was younger I used to say, 'I may have lost, but I've never been beaten,'" he said. "But leukemia has beaten...

The NDP leader stepped down on Thursday.

“When I was younger I used to say, ‘I may have lost, but I’ve never been beaten,’” he said.

“But leukemia has beaten me.

“I have no control anymore over what the illness will do.”

Hardy’s cancer returned in October, during the federal election.

That’s when he realized the stress of his job was having an impact on his health.

“It could kill me,” he said.

In December, Hardy told the NDP caucus, its executive and his friends that he planned to leave the leadership post.

But he was scared to tell his mother.

“I was afraid if I stepped down, she’d think I was really sick,” he said.

It brought back memories of when he was first diagnosed with the disease, in August 2006.

“After the first four hours, I was at peace with it,” said Hardy.

Only one thing really haunted him.

“Nothing scared me more than telling my mom,” he said.

Medevaced to St. Paul’s in Vancouver, all Hardy kept repeating as he was wheeled into the hospital was, ‘How do I tell my mother?’”

After brutal treatments, including stem-cell transplants and drug therapies so poisonous Hardy nearly died from liver failure, his cancer went into remission.

The medical profession has come a long way, he said.

Twenty years ago, anyone diagnosed with this rare form of leukemia didn’t live.

“Some still don’t,” he added.

On a new drug, Hardy isn’t sure how long it will hold the disease at bay.

“It might be 12 years, it might be 12 months, or it might be two days,” he said.

But dying doesn’t worry the practising Buddhist.

“I’ve thought about death a lot and I’ve never shied away from it,” he said.

“It’s all part of the cycle.”

In keeping with his Buddhist beliefs, Hardy believes in reincarnation.

“Not necessarily as the West understands it,” he said.

Buddhism has also helped Hardy find peace in politics.

“I’m not a Sunday Buddhist,” he said with a laugh.

“The Buddhist practice for me is living mindfully.

“Trying to gain greater knowledge and understanding of life and giving to the community—that’s what brought me into politics.”

At 21, Hardy was a carpenter’s apprentice living in a cabin with his wife and their new baby.

“I was happy building things,” he said.

“I never envisioned being in politics.”

But something drew the young family to party meetings.

Party politics were new in the territory, and Hardy sat in on Conservative and Liberal meetings, before checking out the NDP.

“I’m a socialist,” said Hardy.

“I’m not a social democrat, or a democratic socialist, I’m just a socialist.”

Social comes from the Latin, “to love,” he said.

“And I just try and live life with an understanding of that word.”

Hardy decided the NDP was the closest he’d get to his socialist ideals.

“It’s where I fit in best,” he said.

But Hardy wasn’t thinking of joining the party.

He’d had four kids in five years, the territory was in an economic downturn and his growing family was living in a cabin with no electricity.

“We were quite poor,” he said.

The young family left the territory and got work in Vancouver.

But it’s hard to leave, he said.

“We tried twice and failed.”

The family returned north when Hardy was offered the job of union rep.

“That’s when I got more involved in politics and fighting for workers’ rights,” he said.

Hardy was not “raised to be political.”

“My parents never preached to us as children,” he said.

From farming stock, Hardy’s father fought in the Second World War.

“He never recovered from the horrors,” said Hardy.

“My father struggled all his life with the memories that haunted him.”

Hardy was named after his dad’s best friend, who died in the trenches beside him.

During difficult times, the young Hardy was shipped off to live with his grandparents.

His grandmother, a practising druid, left a lasting impact on the young boy.

“She was really out there,” said Hardy with a laugh.

“I was influenced greatly by her deep, natural connection with nature.”

Despite his turbulent childhood, Hardy “was deeply loved.”

“That’s one thing I know,” he said.

When he was eight, Hardy moved to the territory with his family.

Roughly 20 years later, his father died of cancer.

His father’s struggle with memories of war left Hardy with a lifelong loathing toward injustice.

“You don’t look the other way,” he said, remembering a fight he had on the first day Jack Hulland elementary opened.

A classmate spat in the hair of a girl standing in front of Hardy.

Hardy turned around and told him off. The boy punched Hardy, he punched him back and the pair ended up in the office.

The other boy got to go, but Hardy had to sit there all day waiting for a strap to arrive—the brand new school didn’t have one yet.

Now, injustice materializes in more subtle ways.

Last week, when he was in Vancouver for treatment, Hardy met with a Yukoner who is in St. Paul’s waiting for a stem-cell transplant.

“People need to register to help people who need stem-cell transplants,” said Hardy.

“It’s so easy, all it involves is a mouth swab to see if you’re a match—and you could save a person’s life.”

In 1996, Hardy ran for the NDP in Whitehorse Centre, and won his seat.

Four years later he lost it again.

“I went back to being a carpenter,” he said.

Then, in 2002, the NDP held a leadership convention. Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough was leader at the time.

Hardy was asked to run, but didn’t want to challenge Fairclough’s leadership. But when another candidate entered the race, Hardy threw his name in, and won.

Seven years later, he only has one regret.

“I have tried, since I was elected, to improve the legislative assembly, to make it work better,” he said.

“And I have never been able to achieve that.

“I won’t miss the to-and-fro in there,” he said.

Under Hardy, the NDP shrank from five members to two, with MLA John Edzerza jumping ship last week.

“If people blame me for the NDP not forming government, I take full responsibility,” he said. “That’s what you do as leader.”

By stepping down, Hardy hopes to revitalize the party.

“The party is more important to me than being leader,” he said.

Hardy, who plans to remain in power until a new leader is chosen, has not decided if he will hold onto his Whitehorse Centre seat.

That’s another announcement, he said.

New leadership possibilities don’t include Ken Bolton.

The former federal NDP candidate has no plans to lead the party.

“I’ve got a background in politics and it’s going to stay in the background,” he said.

“My political future is behind me.”

Hardy has left behind some big shoes, said acting NDP president Boyd Pyper.

“Todd’s greatest asset is that he’s so dedicated to his constituents,” he added.

Pyper, like Hardy, takes responsibility for the NDP’s decline.

“The party’s been in a slump since Piers (McDonald was leader),” he said.

“And we are trying to rebuild.

“We need to talk to people and have them talk to us and engage—the party is everybody.”

Although Hardy’s NDP never managed to form government, the party has left a lasting legacy as opposition, he said.

The territory’s anti-smoking legislation, and its Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods laws are just two examples.

“We need to step back and ask what the Yukon would have looked like without the voice of the NDP,” said Hardy.

“Now it’s time to step forward.”

Although he’s stepping down, Hardy doesn’t plan to leave politics.

“I don’t think I can,” he said.

“Work to improve lives is not just done in the chamber.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at