Jim Kenyon has more experience than any Yukon Party leadership candidate – which is to say, he has experience in government.
It’s his chief strength and his biggest vulnerability, for Kenyon must distance himself from scandals of Premier Dennis Fentie’s making.
The 64-year-old veterinarian was responsible for the Department of Economic Development and the liquor, lottery and housing corporations until last week, when Fentie fired him.
Government spindoctors initially claimed Kenyon had resigned. Not so, says Kenyon.
Instead, it appears Fentie – who won’t return calls to Yukon News – took a dim view of some of the disparaging remarks Kenyon made about the his iron-fisted leadership.
It was time to come clean with the public, said Kenyon. “I’ve gone from having to live with the elephant in the room to suddenly being one.”
Until now, the only responsible thing to do was stay mum, he said.
True, he could have followed Brad Cathers to the opposition benches after learning Premier Dennis Fentie had begun secret talks to sell-off the assets of Yukon Energy.
Kenyon was the minister responsible for the utility. And, this was done without his knowledge, he said.
But it would have robbed the Yukon Party of its majority. Kenyon feared triggering an election that would put the Liberals in power. That would have been disastrous to the economy, he said.
The Westminster system of government requires cabinet to toe the leader’s line outside of closed-door meetings, said Kenyon. But, out of public view, there’s discord and turmoil within the ruling party’s ranks.
As Kenyon tells it, he’s heard the usually placid Elaine Taylor swear like a trucker. “She has a vocabulary that’s quite unusual.”
He’s also seen Speaker Ted Staffen “explode” during one caucus meeting, in which he threw books and slammed the door so hard Kenyon wondered if it would require repairs.
It isn’t clear how much cabinet support Kenyon enjoys. So far, no colleague has endorsed him. And, while other leadership candidates have campaign managers, Kenyon seems to be working alone.
Since being fired, Kenyon made the bombshell disclosure that the Yukon has sat on nearly $18 million in affordable housing money for several years. (See story, page three.)
If he wins, he’d like to spend $3 million of that to leverage cash to build another 18 units for Options for Independence, a group that helps Yukoners with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
He’s not convinced that the Yukon needs a youth shelter. Only two youth have bunked at existing government beds in recent months, he said.
Youth homelessness has been exaggerated by some advocates, he said. And he worries the proposed Angel’s Nest shelter would be a legal headache.
“It’s always been a question of liability. They don’t have the training or background.”
He’s also cool to a homeless shelter with attached detoxification centre downtown. The medically supervised drunk tank to be built at the new jail should be adequate, he said.
The Kwanlin Dun’s land-based treatment centre has proven to be a success, said Kenyon, except that “now every First Nation wants to do that. I’d rather see it supported as a central facility, with input from all First Nations.”
On Yukon’s impending power pinch, Kenyon’s bullish on the need to build a weir in Atlin Lake to help retain water during the winter months. He’d also like to see several small, run-of-the-river hydro-electric dams investigated. And Kenyon would like to see the possibility of tapping geothermal heat studied more.
“No matter what you’ll do, there will be someone whose against it,” said Kenyon. “There are going to have to be some really hard decisions made.”
Before deciding how much of the Peel Watershed to protect, Kenyon wants the cost of putting areas off-limits to mining studied. “Don’t protect something the size of Nova Scotia without knowing what’s in there. Deal with facts and data.”
Kenyon supports a mandatory helmet law for ATV and snowmobile riders. “I don’t want to be paying the medical bill if you’re a vegetable for the next 50 years.”
He’s also in favour of imposing a temporary ban on cutting new trails until new government policies are in place, and of putting a committee of experts to work to develop an action plan.
“We’ve got to do something.”
Kenyon’s of mixed minds on education reform, which has put a big emphasis on First Nation culture camps. He worries this is done at the expense of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.
“Then you wonder why they do less well than BC students,” he said.
Yukon also has one of the shortest school years in the country, and high levels of absenteeism. Could lengthening the school year be a solution?
“I’m not an educator, but someone in Education should really be looking at that.”
And, tapping his experience as a vet, Kenyon would like to see the Department of Environment study the impact of disease on big game populations.
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.