Phelps pushes for new party

Willard Phelps wants to create a new political party for the Yukon. He doesn't yet have a slate of candidates, much of a platform, or even a name. He doesn't yet have a slate of candidates, much of a platform, or even a name

Willard Phelps wants to create a new political party for the Yukon.

He doesn’t yet have a slate of candidates, much of a platform, or even a name. But he’s convinced many voters are disillusioned with the three existing parties and that it’s time for a fresh start.

The latest DataPath poll found that 64 per cent of respondents did not support any of the existing parties, Phelps notes.

“I’m saying it’s time for change. We need to create a new, nonpartisan party that will unite people and not divide them,” said Phelps.

“We’re looking for fresh new faces, fresh new ideas and a new way of working together.”

Phelps is a political veteran who helped build the Yukon’s Progressive Conservative Party. He was briefly government leader in 1985 and led the opposition for six years. Then, while sitting as an independent, he served as a key minister in John Ostashek’s Yukon Party coalition government.

He disappeared from the public eye after losing the 1996 election until this June, when Phelps quit as chair of Yukon Energy’s board of directors over Premier Dennis Fentie’s involvement in talks with Alberta-based ATCO to privatize the public utility.

Since resigning, Phelps has led the chorus calling for Fentie’s resignation. He has accused the premier of being a “tin-pot dictator” and of conducting the privatization talks behind the boards’ back.

Now he’s attacking Yukon’s parties, a system that he helped bring to the territory.

As Phelps sees things, most Yukoners can be brought around to agree on most political issues. They want good jobs from mines, for example, provided that the environment receives reasonable protection.

And most territorial governments tend to govern in the same way, regardless of their political stripe, said Phelps.

Yet the legislature is dominated by bickering and acrimonious debate. Parties are reluctant to acknowledge when their opponents are right. The public largely tunes out.

Phelps acknowledges that some will view a nonpartisan party as a contradiction in terms.

But entrenched interests prevent reform of the existing parties. Old guards are wary of new ideas.

All this has helped produce Yukon’s current government, which Phelps charged is characterized by hidden agendas, backroom deals, the appointment of political cronies without merit, political interference with the bureaucracy and the concentration of power in the premier’s office.

The new party’s leader would be just as powerful as those in Yukon’s existing parties, possessing the power to choose candidates and eject unruly caucus members.

But the new party would operate differently in that it would “discourage cronyism and welcome new faces, new ideas and change,” said Phelps.

He hopes to attract First Nation candidates in particular, who are generally wary of joining a political party.

But the new party should not by built around himself, said Phelps. That’s why he’s not yet trotting out candidates, or unveiling the party’s platform or name.

Those decisions should be made by the new party’s members. He’s calling for anyone interested in joining to attend a public meeting at the Gold Rush Inn on Wednesday, November 18 at 7 p.m.

There’s no guarantee that Phelps would lead the party, although he’s willing to do so, he said. Again, that would be up to its members.

He has one proposed platform plank. It’s to introduce recall legislation to allow disillusioned constituents to remove their MLA in mid-term if enough signatures are gathered.

If such a law already existed, “I think we’d see a lot of empty seats in the legislature,” said Phelps.

And he has his own suggestion for a name. “I like the idea of the Unity Party,” he said.

Whether the party takes off or not will depend on how many people show up at the meeting later this month, said Phelps.

“Am I a bit naive? I guess I’ll find out.”

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