Long-time Yukon Party member Russ Hobbis has announced he will seek the Liberal nomination for this year’s territorial election.
The owner of Bilsten Creek Tree Service plans to run in Porter Creek South, a riding currently held by Health Minister Mike Nixon.
Hobbis joins businessman Rod Taylor and accessibility advocate Ramesh Ferris as the latest potential Liberal candidate with previous ties to the Yukon Party.
But he insists the change of allegiance isn’t an opportunistic move.
“People can say what they like. But… Yukon Party values have so far strayed from what I thought they were that I can no longer be associated or want to be associated with that party.”
Hobbis said he gave up his Yukon Party membership over a year ago. He had previously been a member since 2005. He was the Yukon Party candidate for Copperbelt in the 2006 territorial election, losing to then-Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell. He also lost the party’s nomination to House Speaker David Laxton in Porter Creek Centre in 2011.
Hobbis said he became disillusioned with the Yukon Party because of what he calls “a lack of educational assistance or support within the school systems.”
In 2014, he complained publicly when the Department of Education failed to provide his autistic daughter, Molly, with a full-time education assistant.
“There is a lack of sufficient funding,” he said on Tuesday. “This is not acceptable to me, nor do I believe it’s acceptable to any Yukoner.”
Hobbis didn’t mince his words in criticizing the government.
“We have a problem,” he said. “Our territorial government has lost its way. If I tried to list all the failures and shortcomings of our current elected officials, we would be here the rest of the day.”
While many of the Liberal contenders have preferred to speak in abstract terms during their announcements, Hobbis focused on three issues of concern and set out specific targets he would fight for as an MLA.
Regarding education, he said he would push for “the immediate reinstatement of all funding that’s been pulled from the Department of Education for educational assistance, classroom support workers and all other staff that help our children realize their full potential.”
He also criticized the government’s plan for a redundant fibre-optic line up the Dempster Highway. He argued that the project shouldn’t be owned by Northwestel, which he called a “monopoly corporation.”
“I think it’s time we all said enough is enough. I believe the Yukon government needs to take a second look at this project.”
He said the line should instead be owned by the territory.
But it’s unclear whether his party will agree with him on that. Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has criticized the government for not fostering competition, since it never put the project out to tender. But he hasn’t said the government should own the line.
Hobbis also lambasted the government for its “broken relationship” with Yukon First Nations, by now a favourite refrain among potential Liberal candidates.
He said the Peel watershed court case has wasted time and has created economic uncertainty.
“The trust is broken, the respect is gone, the willingness to work together is absent.”
As an MLA, he said, he would invite all Yukon First Nation leaders to join the territorial government in a collaborative forum to “begin to mend the wounds the previous government has inflicted.”
Hobbis said he lived in Porter Creek South for 16 years, and his children go to school at Jack Hulland Elementary School and Porter Creek Secondary School.
Nixon narrowly beat out Liberal candidate Don Inverarity in Porter Creek South in 2011. Hobbis said he’s feeling confident about the possibility of running against the health minister.
“I think my chances are good or I wouldn’t be putting my name forward,” he said. “I’m running to win.”
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