Liberals pick Laberge candidate

Mike Simon wants to be the Liberal MLA of Lake Laberge. The 50-year-old, German-born Yukoner was acclaimed by the party’s riding association January 27. Simon will face an uphill battle in the coming territorial election.

Mike Simon wants to be the Liberal MLA of Lake Laberge.

The 50-year-old, German-born Yukoner was acclaimed by the party’s riding association January 27.

Simon will face an uphill battle in the coming territorial election, which must be called by this autumn. Lake Laberge is about as conservative a riding as it gets, and the incumbent, Brad Cathers, received more than half the votes in the 2002 and 2006 elections.

But the government gravy train stopped chugging past Lake Laberge after the autumn of 2009, when Cathers quit the Yukon Party cabinet and caucus over the ATCO energy privatization debacle.

This spat created an unresolved rift in the governing party. As it grows, so do the potholes along Lake Laberge’s roads. Simon points to them as evidence that their riding is no longer being well-served by their MLA.

This is not for lack of trying on Cathers’ part. During past sittings of the legislature, he has used nearly all of his time during question period to harp on constituency concerns. But he hasn’t won many commitments from Public Works Minister Archie Lang.

Meanwhile, Simon knows bicyclists who are now too frightened to pedal down the Hot Springs Road, for fear of vehicles weaving their way between potholes.

There’s also another controversy simmering on the same road, spurred by owner of the Takhini Hot Springs’ proposal to build condos as part of an expanded resort.

Cathers has opposed this development, as do many nearby residents. The government has yet to make a decision, but Lands Minister Patrick Rouble has made positive remarks about the project.

Simon proposes that he could broker a deal between the two sides. “Brad is adamant on one side of the argument,” he said. “The government is adamant on the other.”

Simon grew up in Hanover, in northern Germany, which he calls “the Canadian North’s twin.” He first visited the Yukon in 1987 and became a Canadian citizen in 1994. He moved to Lake Laberge, from Porter Creek, in 1991.

Simon worked as a construction worker, wiring buildings and working on heating and cooling systems, before he joined the Yukon’s property management branch four years ago.

He thinks the territory can do more to conserve energy. Installing more high-efficiency light bulbs in government buildings would be a start. He has other ideas, too.

“Many schools, for example, they run like they’re occupied all summer long, when they’re empty,” said Simon. “They’re just burning energy.

“The government is the biggest building owner. It should show the public what options are out there.”

The Liberals only have about 30 to 40 members in the riding, Simon estimates.

“But since Christmas I signed up a dozen new members,” he said. “And I’ll keep on doing that.”

Simon admits to having one door shut in his face. But, for the most part, he’s found Laberge residents to be friendly, even if they don’t share his political views. “Nobody has threatened me, or chased their dog after me, or anything like that.”

Loose dogs have become a political controversy in the riding, with residents on two occasions raising public concerns about vicious dogs roaming their neighbourhoods. Simon and Cathers have both heard these complaints, but both are reluctant to support any calls for new regulations.

Residents of Lake Laberge tend to cherish their freedoms. Simon, knowing this, would prefer to see a public education campaign over new laws.

“I’d much rather have people see the danger and do something about it voluntarily,” he said.

Simon is also a big booster of local farms. He has a vegetable plot at Rivendell Farms, where he’s helped grow organically-certified broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage. “It’s fresh. It tastes so much better. It has real flavour.”

He’d like to see the government do more to support Yukon farms, as well as keep a careful eye out for pesticides that could flow into nearby lakes and rivers.

So far no other party has announced a candidate for Lake Laberge. But Simon speculates that the riding may see a five-way race in the next election: a candidate put forward by each of Yukon’s three existing parties, plus Cathers as an independent and a candidate running with Willard Phelps’ fledgling United Citizens Group.

With the vote-splitting that could ensue, “somebody with 15 per cent could take the seat,” said Simon.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.