Mayors fear ballot box fatigue

Yukon's Liberals may drool over the prospect of an autumn territorial election, following the noisy defection of Brad Cathers from government one week ago, but not everyone relishes the idea. Take municipal leaders.

Yukon’s Liberals may drool over the prospect of an autumn territorial election, following the noisy defection of Brad Cathers from government one week ago, but not everyone relishes the idea.

Take municipal leaders. They worry their elections, set for October 15, could be overshadowed by possible territorial and federal campaigns.

“The focus gets detracted from our work,” said Bev Buckway, Whitehorse’s mayor and the president of the Yukon Association of Municipalities.

She speaks from experience. The last municipal election, in 2006, fell within three weeks of territorial elections.

Talented candidates who considered vying for a council seat ended up being poached by territorial political parties.

Issues became clouded. Buckway knows one mayoral candidate who was asked, “What party are you running for?” But municipal politics has no parties.

And ballot-box fatigue set in.

“Voters are just really reluctant to return to the polls,” said Buckway. “Let’s hope they pick another time.”

An autumn territorial election is by no means guaranteed. Unless all opposition and independent MLAs vote together on a nonconfidence vote, Premier Dennis Fentie’s government would continue to stand.

The NDP appears split. Its outgoing leader, Todd Hardy, says he’ll support a non-confidence vote to trigger an election.

But Elizabeth Hanson, who will likely take over as party leader in late September, is calling for MLAs to try working with Fentie’s government before defeating it.

“I’m hoping that they’d come into this somewhat chastened and say, ‘We need to work together and we need to give it a chance.’ And if they said this, I’d say, ‘Let’s try it,’” she said.

“We should at least give them a chance.”

Then there are Yukon’s two Independent MLAs – Cathers, and John Edzerza – who remain wild cards, with neither committing to support of a nonconfidence vote.

And Fentie still has the choice of not holding an autumn sitting. The house lights could remain dim until May.

Federal politicians, meanwhile, are going through much of the same motions as our territorial ones, with Liberal Michael Ignatieff vowing to pull the plug on the Conservative government.

So if the Fentie government does fall, Yukoners could face not one, but three autumn elections.

If Cathers had hoped that quitting his job as energy minister would have triggered a broader cabinet revolt against Fentie, he must so far be disappointed.

Cabinet ministers have quietly closed ranks, and Fentie has yet to respond to Cathers’ allegations that the he lied to the public and cabinet while secretly planning to sell off the assets of Yukon Energy to Alberta-based ATCO.

Meanwhile, cabinet communications has shovelled out as much feel-good news as it could muster this week, as the territory flung $720,000 at 14 different community groups.

It remains to be seen if Cathers will pull the trigger to topple the government. He may hope to topple Fentie, but he remains a staunch Conservative, and as such, he may not want to be seen as being responsible for a Yukon Party electoral loss.

Edzerza, who himself was a cabinet minister in Fentie’s government for four years, until he left in August of 2006, said of Cathers’ departure that he was “glad to see someone else has intestinal fortitude.” But he won’t hint as to how he’ll vote.

The NDP, meanwhile, finds itself caught in a leadership transition while an election looms. Hardy, who has leukemia, is stepping aside on September 26 for Hanson, the incumbent candidate.

Yet Hardy has no plans to vacate his seat. Indeed, he says that his health has improved over the summer, and that if there’s an autumn election, he expects to run again.

And he has no plans to support either the Yukon Party or the Liberals in forming a government.

His views are at odds with Hanson, who would like to give Fentie and his government the benefit of the doubt. Having lost their majority, government ministers could well be more open to working on important issues such as homelessness and helping small businesses ride through the recession, she said.

Of course, it may well be in the NDP’s interests to put off an election until its new leader has had time to shore up the party’s sagging popular support.

“You can call it convenient; you can call it pragmatic,” said Hanson.

Whether Hardy will accept orders from the party’s incoming leader to work with the Yukon Party is uncertain.

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