Liz Hanson doesn’t reveal herself all that often.
She’s not one for small talk, really, not someone you might picture having a beer with.
But during a forum earlier this month, the NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre pulled back the curtain just a little.
Her father died when she was a child in Alberta, leaving her mother with six children below the age of 10. Her political consciousness developed early, she said.
“It came in part from observing how some people assumed that because we were poor, they could give us charity without asking what would be helpful or useful, a life lesson that I carry to this day.”
Hanson isn’t flashy, but she’s arguably the most experienced of the leaders. Though her political life began only shortly before that of her opponents — she took over as leader of the NDP in 2009 and was elected in a by-election the following year — she’s spent much of her career working for the federal government, and was involved in the negotiation of all 11 of Yukon’s First Nation self-government agreements.
Where Yukon Party Leader Darrell Pasloski invariably sticks to his prepared talking points and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver favours masterful one-liners, Hanson always has a wealth of information at her fingertips.
And during the campaign’s many public forums, she has seemed to grate at the limited opportunities for actual debate. She’s never shied away from being adversarial.
“For five years we fought hard against a secretive government who put the interests of their friends ahead of Yukoners’,” she said at a forum on Thursday. “It’s time to say ‘no’ to a Yukon Party government who doesn’t listen and creates conflict.”
Since the writ was dropped, the NDP has run a clever campaign with several big, original commitments.
The New Democrats have promised to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour during their first mandate. Their pledge to eliminate the first year of tuition at Yukon College got some national attention.
The party is also planning to cover the cost of tuition for Yukon students who become doctors and nurses and come home to work.
The NDP has promised to make National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday, a commitment the other major parties have adopted. And it aims to ban corporate, union and outside donations to Yukon political parties.
But the NDP is also planning to use half the revenue from a carbon tax to help pay for its $50-million renewable energy fund, which could be a tougher sell than the Liberals’ promise to rebate all the money to Yukoners.
It wants to use the rest of that revenue to offset tax cuts for low-income Yukoners, while simultaneously increasing rates for those in the top two income tax brackets.
It has spent a huge amount of energy attacking the Liberals’ position on fracking, arguing that their proposed moratorium isn’t strong enough. And it has downplayed the fact that, like the Liberals, it is not opposed to all conventional oil and gas development, if it’s done right.
“If there’s a business case to be made… perhaps they’ve got an opportunity,” Hanson said during a podcast interview with the News. “But it’s not something that we would be actively subsidizing with Yukon or federal tax dollars.”
The NDP campaign was slow to take off, back when the Liberals started announcing their star candidates months ago. The New Democrats have attracted few household names, and had to parachute Skeeter Wright into Old Crow when their Vuntut Gwitchin candidate dropped out at the last minute.
During the last territorial election, the Yukon New Democrats got a boost from the “Orange Crush” that swept their federal counterparts into Opposition for the first time in 2011.
But this time around, that federal momentum has gone to the Grits.
Recent polls have shown the NDP trailing its two rivals. Though Hanson has cast doubt on those results, the party has also chosen not to release any polls of its own.
And the NDP has struggled to kick the perception that it’s anti-development.
The party says it supports responsible mining, for instance, but has not been entirely clear about what that means. Its platform doesn’t include major commitments to support mining companies.
“I think the fundamentals are pretty clear, that people expect any mining interest that wants to work in the Yukon will know and abide by the rules, will employ Yukoners, and will clean up the mess when they leave,” Hanson said.
But where the Liberals have been pragmatic in their attempt to appeal to everyone, the NDP generally sticks to its guns: more renewable energy, more support for low-income Yukoners, cheaper education.
And it seems that’s more or less who Hanson is. She’s not flashy, but her cards are on the table. Take it or leave it.
“I’m not looking for people to find me cuddly or likeable or whatever,” she said. “I hope that they understand that I’m doing what I’m doing because I believe passionately in what I’m doing and I do so with respect and all I ask for is respect back.
“That’s all. I can’t ask them to love me.”
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org