Liberals to soften stance on Peel

The Yukon Liberals are revisiting their push to protect four-fifths of the Peel Watershed, says interim leader Darius Elias.

The Yukon Liberals are revisiting their push to protect four-fifths of the Peel Watershed, says interim leader Darius Elias.

“There’s a lot of ways you can protect an ecological region without locking it up and throwing away the key,” said Elias. “I don’t want to handcuff Yukoners 50 years from now.”

It’s a dramatic about-turn since the autumn territorial election when the Liberals campaigned heavily in favour of protecting the vast swath of wilderness in northeast Yukon.

But the Liberals are in a far different position now after they were clobbered at the polls and left with just two seats and Elias as interim leader.

It’s not a job he intends to permanently hold. The 39-year-old MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin said he’s worried that rebuilding the Liberal party would take away from his efforts to lobby for his home community of Old Crow.

Sandy Silver, the Liberal’s greenhorn MLA for the Klondike, may end up becoming interim leader over the next year, said Elias.

“Don’t be surprised if the leadership reins are passed to Mr. Silver,” said Elias. “He said – and this shows the calibre of man we’re dealing with -‘no problem.’”

It would be a speedy promotion for Silver, who was elected for the first time in October. But Elias would continue to help, he said.

“I’ll be right there beside him. It’s a team effort.”

Before Elias hands off the leadership, he intends to tilt his party to the right in an effort to woo back former members who now support the Yukon Party.

Scott Kent and David Laxton are two former Liberals who now sit as Yukon Party MLAs. Both pointed to the Liberals’ position on the Peel as their main reason for departing.

The Liberals haven’t yet overhauled their Peel policy, but Elias intends to discuss the matter with the Liberals’ newly-elected executive soon.

Elias remains opposed to “commodification of the main arteries of the watershed,” he said.

Rethinking the Peel will be part of a broader effort “to be standing that moral, right-of-centre ground,” said Elias.

“I’m going to keep that canoe on the right side of the river, and keep that canoe steady.”

Elias has also tried to moderate his tone as a politician. Before the last election, he’d often offer angry condemnations of the government.

Now Elias has gone as far as to say he trusts Premier Darrell Pasloski – not something you hear often from an opposition politician.

Elias made the remark in support of Pasloski’s efforts to negotiate a better health transfer agreement with the federal government. “I said, ‘I trust his judgment on this issue, as it stands right now,’” said Elias.

“When I see a leader doing something I support, I’ll say it, because it’s in the interest of all Yukoners. I’m not just here to point fingers and criticize.”

He also said he won’t engage in “gotcha” politics. “I’m not here to pick on any of the MLAs,” he said.

Nor does Elias sugarcoat the state of his party. “We understand we got our asses kicked. We understand it’s an uphill battle.”

His goal is to make the Yukon Liberal Party “fun and sexy again.”

Elias failed to show up at the party’s annual meeting on Saturday. Nobody in attendance seemed to know where he was.

Since the Yukon News reported this on Monday, he’s been inundated with angry phone calls, he said.

Some Yukoners assumed he had been out partying. Others wondered if he planned to join the Yukon Party.

Wrong on both counts, said Elias.

Instead, he had to deal with an “urgent family matter.” Some members in attendance knew this, he said, but to avoid any confusion he’s taking “complete responsibility” for his failure to show up.

Liberals overwhelmingly voted at the meeting to put off a leadership convention until after 2012, with members now leaning towards having a leadership race in mid-2014.

A new executive was acclaimed. Cully Robinson is president, Kyla MacArthur is vice-president, Krysta Meekins is secretary, and Brad Weston is treasurer. The new directors are Brandon Kassbaum, David Black, Viki Paulins, Angie Charlebois and May Blysak.

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