Klondike MLA downplays leader’s Peel ponderings

No decision has yet been made to soften the Liberal stance on the Peel Watershed, says Klondike MLA Sandy Silver. "It's the first I'd heard we're going to change our Peel position," said Silver.

No decision has yet been made to soften the Liberal stance on the Peel Watershed, says Klondike MLA Sandy Silver.

“It’s the first I’d heard we’re going to change our Peel position,” said Silver. “We have so many people to talk to first.”

Silver was responding to comments made earlier this week by Darius Elias, the Liberals’ interim leader and MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin.

“There’s a lot of ways you can protect an ecological region without locking it up and throwing away the key,” Elias told the News in an interview earlier this week.

“I don’t want to handcuff Yukoners 50 years from now.”

Elias said he wants the party executive to review its support for protecting four-fifths of the vast swath of northeast Yukon.

That would be a dramatic change from the party’s staunch support of Peel protection during the fall territorial election. And this potential flip-flop doesn’t sit well with Yukoners who want the watershed protected and voted Liberal.

“It hit like a ton of bricks, that story. My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” said Silver.

But the proposed policy change isn’t a foregone conclusion, said Silver.

“We’re in third place right now. Of course we’re going to relook at all of our policies.

“We may take a look, we may do all this research … and we may come to the conclusion that we like our current stance on the Peel. That could be reality.”

Silver supports Elias’ broader plans to tilt the Liberal party to the right to win back voters.

“I don’t think I would have been elected in Dawson if I hadn’t at least been a blue Grit. I’ve always been right of centre. People voted for me because of that,” said Silver.

“What we’re trying to do is re-establish the fact that we’re a centre party. We need to make sure Yukoners have three distinct choices in the elections. The Liberals were all over the map, in a way.

“One of the criticisms I heard during the last election was that you couldn’t differentiate between our stance and the NDP’s stance. That’s something we need to think about.”

The newly-elected Silver could become the next interim leader within a year, Elias said in this week’s interview.

When Elias took the job, he made it clear he didn’t want rebuilding the party to trump his own efforts to look out for the unique needs of his Old Crow constituents.

Chiefs of the Yukon’s three northern First Nations are to meet with Premier Darrell Pasloski to discuss the Peel by mid-month. They’ll talk about when to hold a final round of public meetings about the draft plan to protect the Peel.

At some point, Pasloski is also expected to spell out what sort of protection he proposes. So far, the government has taken pains to avoid specifics.

“With this new government, we have no idea which way they’re going to turn,” said Simon Mervyn, chief of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun. “We haven’t got a clue.”

Mervyn continues to hold the gloomy view that, in the end, the Peel talks will end with First Nations suing the territorial government. “Unfortunately,” he said.

The NDP stands by its support of the Peel plan, said Jim Tredger, the party’s mining critic.

“We made a commitment to the people of the Yukon, and we’ll stand by that,” he said.

As for Elias’ comments, he was “somewhat disillusioned that they’d change their minds so quickly.” Arthur Mitchell, the former leader of the Liberals, wouldn’t criticize Elias’ calls for a new Peel policy. But it’s clear he doesn’t agree.

“I always thought the stand we took on the Peel had to do with long-term values, and those were the values I espoused,” he said. “It’s now time for those people in the political arena to make their case for their decisions, and I respect that.”

Mitchell watched the Liberal vote collapse on election night and lost his own seat. Like others in the party, he faults the implosion of the federal Liberals and the hot Yukon economy for the party’s humbled state.

“A whole series of events can conspire in how elections turn out. Obviously I’m not happy with how this one worked out. I’m tremendously disappointed to lose my own seat, no doubt about it. But I went through all the stages of grieving about that, and I moved on.”

After the election, Mitchell hopped into his Jeep and spent the next two weeks driving to Baja, California, where he has a condo. He then spent a month “just decompressing.”

“I did a lot of reading, walked several miles a day at low tide on the beach, swam in the ocean, and said, ‘There’s life beyond politics.’”

The former realtor, land developer and storeowner is now hanging out his shingle as a business consultant. He also intends to become a director for Habitat for Humanity and is active with his Rotary club.

“If the right job comes along, I’ll apply for it,” said Mitchell. “But the wolf’s not at the door yet.”

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