Ranj Pillai officially announced his candidacy for Yukon Liberal Party leader in front of family and a crowd of supporters at NorthLight Innvoation on Nov. 25. He will be acclaimed as party leader and sworn in for premiership. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Ranj Pillai officially announced his candidacy for Yukon Liberal Party leader in front of family and a crowd of supporters at NorthLight Innvoation on Nov. 25. He will be acclaimed as party leader and sworn in for premiership. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Ranj Pillai takes Liberal leadership uncontested

Ranj Pillai will be acclaimed as party leader and sworn in for premiership

An uncontested Yukon Liberal Party leadership contest has determined that Ranj Pillai has become the party leader and will become the territory’s next premier.

Pillai was the only candidate in the running. Candidate nominations closed at 5 p.m. on Jan. 7.

In a Jan. 8 statement on its website, the party said Pillai was acclaimed by the Liberal party executive at a Jan. 8 meeting.

“I am honoured and humbled to be acclaimed as the leader of the Yukon Liberal Party. We have so much to be proud of and I’m very excited for what the future of the Yukon holds,” Pillai said in a statement issued by his campaign after the announcement.

“I am committed to working hard, seeking common ground, acting strategically and to fiercely defending the interests of the Yukon. I look forward to serving all Yukoners as our dedicated team continues to make this territory one of the best places to call home.”

A swearing-in ceremony will be held to formally transition from the present premier to the new Yukon Liberal Party leader.

In the statement, Pillai thanked outgoing Leader and Premier Sandy Silver for his “leadership and dedication.”

“I look forward to continuing to work with him for the remainder of our term,” Pillai said.

Pillai said he will provide more details about his cabinet makeup and his government’s plans for the future after he is sworn in.

Premier Sandy Silver announced Sept. 9 that he will be stepping down from the helm after the party finds a new leader, who will take over the premiership.

Silver will be tapping out as the longest serving current premier in the country. He has been party leader since 2012 and led the party to victory in two elections.

“Ranj is exactly what the Yukon needs at this time, a strong leader dedicated to building a positive future for all Yukoners,” Silver said in a statement.

“He has been an integral member of our cabinet team and has shown tremendous determination to achieve the mandate Yukoners gave him. Ranj has the experience, expertise and compassion necessary for the job. I am confident in his ability and excited for what his leadership will bring to the territory.”

It has been a quiet campaign.

Pillai put out a media release branded “Ranj for premier” just moments after the 2022 fall sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly ended on Nov. 24.

The following morning, he made his candidacy official during a campaign launch in front of family, friends and supporters gathered at NorthLight Innovation in Whitehorse.

Former MP Larry Bagnell addressed the crowd at Pillai’s campaign launch. He said Pillai had a “great relationship” working with the federal government on critical issues.

“He was always very straightforward. He was very forthcoming. He was very thoughtful and very reasonable,” Bagnell said.

“You couldn’t want a better person in that type of position.”

Pillai was first elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly in the 2016 territorial election. He is the current MLA for Porter Creek South, as well as the minister of Economic Development, the minister of Tourism and Culture and the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon Liquor Corporation and the Yukon Lottery Commission.

Throughout the campaign period, Pillai held onto his ministerial portfolios, despite calls from the opposition for sitting cabinet ministers to step aside if they wanted to run for the leadership.

Speaking to reporters after his inaugural campaign speech, Pillai said Silver is leaving him with a “strong economy with a focus on reconciliation and climate change.”

He said his party is not out of ideas, regardless of quips from the Yukon Party.

“We’ll continue to focus on the stuff that we have committed to,” he said.

“And we’ll be rolling out some, you know, new concepts that have not been talked about, and things that are really focused on a vision for the Yukon and ensuring that there’s a long-term vision for the Yukon and then making sure that Yukoners can come and coalesce around that.”

Pillai said he is open to conversations when it comes to renewing the territorial Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement, which expires on Jan. 31.

Pillai told reporters he would not call a snap election.

“I think at this point, people want stability,” he said.

In a video posted to social media on Dec. 18, Jeanie McLean, who is MLA for Mountainview as well as the Education minister and the minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate, endorsed for Pillai as the next Liberal leader and premier of the territory.

“I know how deeply he cares about the Yukon and everyone who lives and visits here,” McLean said.

“I know how passionate he is about continuing the amazing, innovative and extremely progressive work we had started together since 2016. He has an extensive background and wealth of knowledge.”

Pillai has previously served as the deputy premier, minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, minister of Economic Development and minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation.

The former Whitehorse city councillor whose term ran from 2009 to 2012 spearheaded the first anti-racism and discrimination bylaw North of 60, according to his biography on the party’s website.

After Pillai’s tenure as councillor, he worked as the vice president of business development at Northern Vision Development LP and in 2015 he became the executive director of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Government. He has held various roles in several junior mining companies.

The party’s call for donations issued by email on Dec. 28 invited people to donate to the party or Pillai’s campaign.

In a Jan. 4 interview, Gallina said the party and its president did not back any particular candidate.

“I can say that there’s been many discussions for potential candidates wanting to come forward and, you know, the final decision for those candidates to come forward is up to them and their family and their supporters,” he said.

Gallina said “hundreds” of new party members have signed up since the beginning of the leadership race.

“The Yukon Liberal Party is excited to confirm Ranj Pillai as its new leader. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position. He has accomplished so much as a minister in this government and will carry that energy into his role as the Yukon’s next premier,” Gallina said in the Jan. 8 statement.

“We are very thankful for Sandy Silver and all that he has accomplished as leader. As premier, he has brought in responsible financial management, an aggressive pandemic response plan that led the nation and government services that meet the needs of Yukoners. He has made a very positive impact on this territory, and we appreciate all he has done.”

Instead of holding a leadership convention on Jan. 28, as planned, the party will hold its annual general meeting and policy convention for party members at the MacBride Museum on that day.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com