Phillips needs to choose hats: opposition

Doug Phillips needs to choose whether he’s a partisan or he’s neutral, says NDP leader Todd Hardy.

Doug Phillips needs to choose whether he’s a partisan or he’s neutral, says NDP leader Todd Hardy.

Phillips can either accept his new position as the Yukon’s administrator — which Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice appointed him to last week — or he can keep his seat as the Yukon Party’s representative on the electoral boundaries commission.

But he can’t do both, said Hardy in a release.

“Mr. Phillips is certainly qualified to be either the administrator or his party’s representative on the boundaries commission,” said Hardy.

“But he can’t have it both ways. He can’t wear a non-partisan hat and a partisan hat at the same time.”

Phillips served as a Yukon Party MLA from 1985 until 2000.

He was also Tourism Minister in John Ostashek’s government.

Last month, Yukon commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber appointed Phillips as the Yukon Party’s representative on the electoral boundaries commission.

But his most recent appointment, as the Yukon’s administrator, could require him to step in for Van Bibber, said Hardy.

“As acting commissioner, Mr. Phillips could well be called upon to sign orders in council or give royal assent to legislation from the same party whose interests he is representing on the boundaries commission,” he said in the release.

Van Bibber served as Yukon administrator before being appointed as Yukon commissioner.

If Phillips keeps both positions, he could create a troubling perception that the commissioner’s office has been politicized, and that the commissioner could influence the Yukon’s electoral boundaries, said Hardy.

The worry about the two positions is one of neutrality, not the integrity of Phillips, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

 “No one doubts Mr. Phillips’ competence or qualifications for either position, I certainly don’t,” said Mitchell on Wednesday. “But inherently, it’s absolutely crucial the administrator be seen by all as neutral.”

While the terms of reference for the boundaries commission post Phillips hold are inherently partisan, the administrator job guidelines are absolutely the opposite, he said.

“So, there’s an inherent conflict in serving in those two roles and he needs to make a decision.”

Phillips has responded by contacting the federal government and seeking its advice in light of Hardy’s concerns.

 “I’ve met with the commissioner and contacted the appropriate officials in Ottawa and said, ‘Here’s what I currently do. What are the guidelines and what are the rules?’” said Phillips on Wednesday.

He hopes to hear back from Ottawa within the next few days, he said.

If forced to choose between administrator and the boundaries commission seat, the decision would be an easy one, he added.

“I would certainly choose the administrator’s job. If there’s an issue with respect to political bias, then I wouldn’t go there.”

Phillips is also a member of the Yukon Hospital Foundation board, volunteer chair of Northwestel’s Festival of the Trees and chair of the Yukon Land Use Planning Council.

He has informed officials in Ottawa about all of the positions, he said.

“We’re going to sit down and talk about it and they’re going to make some recommendations about what I have to do.”

While it may seem difficult to absolve Phillips’ Yukon Party connections simply by having him stepping down from the boundaries commission post, the realities of the Yukon make that a necessity, said Mitchell.

“I think in this jurisdiction we have to give a little latitude. We’ve had former administrators and commissioners who have served in party politics prior to that time,” he said.

“As long as they understand that in the fulfillment of their new duties that they are absolutely non-partisan then we have to rely on the integrity of the individuals.

“The key is that you don’t renew your membership in a party; you don’t attend annual general meetings and such.”

Phillips’ other appointments don’t necessarily make him a partisan, added Mitchell.

But the way he was awarded them was partisan, he said.

“We have problems with the appointment process. All of those are supposed to be non-partisan. The all-party committee (on major board appointments) that we’ve been asking for has yet to meet.”

Officials with the Yukon Party could not be reached for comment.

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