Phelps packs it in

Willard Phelps has abandoned plans to lead the fledging United Citizens Group into the next territorial election. “I’m getting older,” said the 69-year old political veteran. “It means a tremendous lifestyle change for my wife and I.”

Willard Phelps has abandoned plans to lead the fledging United Citizens Group into the next territorial election.

“I’m getting older,” said the 69-year old political veteran. “It means a tremendous lifestyle change for my wife and I.”

Without Phelps, it looks unlikely that the United Citizens Group, which he helped create in the autumn of 2009, will be a contender in the next territorial election.

“I suspect it’s rather late in the day now,” said Phelps.

Phelps was leader of Yukon’s Progressive Conservatives from 1985 to 1991. He went on to serve as a Yukon Party cabinet minister from 1992 to 1996.

He bounded back into political life in the summer of 2009, after he quit as chair of Yukon Energy to protest Premier Dennis Fentie’s plans to sell-off the utility’s assets to Alberta-based ATCO.

Phelps gave a barnburner of a speech, lambasting Fentie for being a “tin-pot dictator.” Then he staged a convention that attracted more than 100 people of all political stripes, including the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Then a spilled bottle of Coke may have changed Yukon politics forever.

Phelps slipped on the stuff while shopping at Superstore in Whitehorse in May of last year. He broke his leg and spent the next six months laid up.

Efforts to build the new party stalled and never recovered.

Yukon’s political scene has changed a lot in the past year, too. Last month, Fentie announced his own political career is winding down, and that he won’t defend his title as Yukon Party leader in the leadership race that’s underway.

With Fentie out, Phelps hopes the state of Yukon’s politics will improve.

“Everyone should be given their due for making the sacrifice of being a politician. But I certainly disagreed with his dictatorial style, the secrecy, and lack of transparency in government. I certainly wouldn’t retract any of that.”

Phelps also wisecracked about John Edzerza, who started as a Yukon Party member, crossed the floor to the New Democrats and has since rejoined the government: “I wonder how he finds his seat.”

And he praised Brad Cathers, who as Energy minister in a noisy falling-out with Fentie over his handling of the ATCO affair. “Brad did the right thing. But nobody followed.”

With Yukon on the cusp of another mining boom, Phelps expressed caution. “There will be a tremendous upheaval for the Yukon. It could be good; it could be bad.

“There’s a huge task ahead, and we haven’t really been prepared for it,” he said. “The policies are all in disarray, in my view.”

Phelps never intended to stay in politics for long. “I made it clear it wasn’t a career for me. I’d put three or four years into it, but I’d want to hand it off as clearly as possible.”

After spending the past winter in Arizona, Phelps realized that even that may be too long. “Time slips by,” he said.

There’s more to life than politics, after all. Phelps is an avid hiker, hunter and fisher. And he’s considering becoming an author.

“I like reading and writing. I’m going to mess around a bit with that.”

Contact John Thompson at

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