Meet the new commish

Doug Phillips is Yukon's new commissioner, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced yesterday. Phillips, 63, served as MLA for Riverdale North for 15 years, until he retired from politics in 2000.

Doug Phillips is Yukon’s new commissioner, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced yesterday.

Phillips, 63, served as MLA for Riverdale North for 15 years, until he retired from politics in 2000.

As a staunch supporter of the Yukon Party, who at various points served as minister of Tourism, Education and Justice, and opposition leader, among other roles, his appointment will be viewed by cynics as yet another conservative patronage appointment by Harper.

By comparison, Geraldine Van Bibber, Yukon’s outgoing commissioner, has no such political ties.

But Phillips sees his new job as a perfect fit for his aptitudes. He doesn’t miss the vicious sniping that comes with partisan politics. But he’s always enjoyed hobnobbing, which is a big part of his new role.

“This is the side of public life I enjoy the most: dealing with people,” said Phillips. “Yukoners are the most amazing people – they’re friendly and generous and amazing when it comes to volunteering.

“I think anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a huge Yukon booster. So this is the best job I could ever have.”

Phillips has remained active in public life since he left the legislature. He helped found the Yukon Hospital Foundation. And he recently sat on a variety of boards, such as the assessment appeal board and Yukon Land Use Planning Council.

The new job won’t be a big leap for Phillips to make. Since 2007, he’s served as Yukon’s administrator, or deputy commissioner. In that capacity, he only had to fill in for Geraldine Van Bibber several times.

Yukon’s commissioner plays the same roles as a lieutenant governor does in the provinces. Phillips will swear in new MLAs and cabinet members and read the throne speech.

And he’ll be dealing with a lot of paperwork: his assent is required before any bills or cabinet orders become law.

It’ll also be his job to throw two big parties a year: the commissioner’s ball, held each June at the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson City, and the Commissioner’s Levee, held on New Year’s Day at the Yukon government’s main administrative building.

Phillips acknowledges his role today is to be a figurehead. But “each commissioner puts his or her own stamp on the job,” he said.

He hopes to use the position to draw youth into taking a bigger role in the commissioner’s public functions, with performances of First Nations songs and dances as an example.

“There’s an awful lot of young people out there in the Yukon who are extremely talented in the arts and culture.”

Up until 1979, the commissioner wielded the same sort of power that Premier Dennis Fentie enjoys today. That changed with a letter written by Jake Epp, then minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, who instructed Commissioner Ione Christensen to abandon her powers and establish responsible government in the territory.

Phillips has lived in Marsh Lake for the past 13 years. He’s an avid hunter and trapper.

He has five children, all grown, and five grandchildren.

“I love my children dearly, but my grandkids are a lot more fun than our kids were – we don’t have all those responsibilities,” he said with a chuckle. “We can get them fired up and then send them home.”

The commissioner’s office received $160,000 in 2009-10. Of that, $95,000 went to personnel. It’s unclear how much of that went to the commissioner’s salary – a call to the office wasn’t returned by press-time.

Phillips will be sworn in over the next few weeks. He will serve a five-year term.

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