Liberals’ interim leader fails to show at AGM

“Where’s Darius?” whispered former Yukon MP Larry Bagnell to chair Keith Halliday as the meeting neared its end. “I don’t know,” Halliday replied. Klondike MLA Sandy Silver didn’t know either.

UPDATED

The interim leader of the Yukon Liberals was notably absent at the party’s annual general meeting in Whitehorse on the weekend.

Darius Elias couldn’t attend because of “a serious family issue,” he told the News Monday afternoon.

“If I ever have to choose between priorities of family and priorities of politics, priorities of family are going to win 100 per cent of the time,” he said.

But the reasons for his absence weren’t known on Saturday.

“Where’s Darius?” whispered former Yukon MP Larry Bagnell to chair Keith Halliday as the meeting neared its end.

“I don’t know,” Halliday replied.

Klondike MLA Sandy Silver didn’t know either.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I haven’t seen him since (Vancouver’s Mineral) Roundup. I called him last night but didn’t hear back from him. I wish I could tell you.”

Elias, the MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, was expected to deliver a speech to the two dozen party loyalists who attended the meeting at the MacBride Museum on Saturday. With Elias missing in action, it was left to Silver, who had also prepared a speech to try to rouse the crowd.

“We didn’t get the election results that we had hoped and sweated for but we didn’t fail,” said Silver. “One in four Yukoners picked a Grit in October.

“One Liberal candidate, in particular, received more votes than any of the other 56 candidates. That was me,” Silver said, grinning. “The point is that we’re strong.”

The meeting was nevertheless a somber affair, following the clobbering the Liberals took in the autumn election. Going into the election with five MLAs and official opposition status, they were reduced to a two-seat rump with third party status.

“We all know the results of the last election. And they were, frankly, painful,” said Halliday.

The Yukon Party has enjoyed a “perfect wave” of ever-growing federal transfers and red-hot metal prices, said Halliday. “And they surfed it well.”

Others saw the party’s decline as part of a national trend, following the collapse of the federal Liberals during the last election.

Yukon Liberals are now taking a long view, preparing to spend the next four years rebuilding their volunteer base.

“There were a lot of people who were active in this party,” said Silver. “And we’d like them to be active once more. I see it every day. People want to feel engaged, important and included. A lot of times all it takes is for us to ask.”

Nobody appears eager to replace Elias as leader. Liberals overwhelmingly voted at the meeting to put off a leadership convention until after 2012.

Members are currently leaning toward holding a leadership race between the summer and fall of 2014, said Patricia Cunning.

Silver, among others, touted the Liberals as the party “that values ideas.” But attendees stuck to lofty rhetoric, rather than concrete policy proposals.

“Yukoners don’t need to choose any more between compassion and prosperity,” said Silver. “They can now have both.”

As of Monday morning, the reason for Elias’ absence still remained unclear.

“The meeting fell at a difficult time with them getting back from Vancouver,” said Cully Robinson, the party’s newly-elected president.

“He had some personal issues he had to attend to,” said Blake Rogers, interim chief of staff.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com

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