Sandy Silver: ‘The challenge was… letting go’

Sandy Silver has been a one-man show for the last four years. The Liberal MLA for Klondike was elected for the first time in 2011, in what was largely a rout for his party.

Sandy Silver has been a one-man show for the last four years.

The Liberal MLA for Klondike was elected for the first time in 2011, in what was largely a rout for his party. Former leader Arthur Mitchell lost his seat, and the only other Liberal MLA, Darius Elias, took over as interim leader. When Elias left in 2012, Silver effectively became the party.

It wasn’t easy, he says.

“Without getting too emotional about it, it was an extremely difficult time.”

His voice breaks when he talks about how his friends in Dawson kept him going.

“‘We voted for you,’” he remembers them saying. “‘And we voted for you for a reason. Now go do your fucking job.’”

Today, that’s all changed. The transplanted Maritimer and former Dawson City math teacher now finds himself surrounded by a slew of new Liberal candidates heading into Monday’s election. And that hasn’t always been easy, either.

“The challenge was definitely letting go of control over things,” he said. “You get used to that. And then all of a sudden you attract these amazing people.… Very strong willed, positive and effective leaders in their own rights.”

The Liberal campaign had momentum long before the election was called. Silver began announcing his new candidates well over a year ago, and more flocked to the Liberal banner after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sweeping victory last October.

The party has attracted a number of high-profile candidates, including former federal Green Party candidate John Streicker, Kluane First Nation Chief Mathieya Alatini and city councillor Jocelyn Curteanu.

But until the writ dropped, it was difficult to pin the Liberals down on many issues. Their popularity seemed, in part, to be driven by Silver’s charisma and the fact that they aren’t the Yukon Party or the NDP.

Silver has capitalized on that, stressing that the Liberal Party is a “big tent” that welcomes those from both the left and right.

Since the election was called on Oct. 7, however, the Liberal campaign has been somewhat lacklustre.

They started off strong, with a promise to cut corporate taxes. They addressed the carbon price issue head-on, saying they would make a federally imposed carbon tax revenue-neutral through rebate cheques, so most Yukoners would make back more than they spend. They’ve said they’ll put a moratorium on fracking for as long as they’re in office.

But most of their recent announcements haven’t had the flair of the Yukon Party’s promise to build a new outdoor sports complex in Whitehorse or the NDP’s pledge to raise minimum wage to $15.

They’ve promised to raise the ceiling for the small business investment tax credit from $1 million to $5 million. They’ve said all government construction contracts will be tendered well before the summer season.

Like all the major parties, they promised to pave the Dawson City airport runway. They plan to spend up to $30 million a year on energy retrofits. And they say they will meet with all First Nations chiefs within 30 days of forming government.

But they’ve been vague about their plans to promote renewable energy development or the mining industry. Instead, they often talk about the need for more consultation.

Silver casts this as a strength, saying the Liberals have avoided making “grandiose promises.”

The Liberals do seem to have taken fewer potshots than the other parties as the election nears. But in running a positive campaign, they’ve allowed the Yukon Party to suggest they want a carbon tax to make everything more expensive, and the NDP to suggest they’ll flip-flop on fracking.

Still, every poll conducted in the last year has shown the Liberals in the lead or neck-and-neck with the Yukon Party, suggesting they could be on their way to forming the second Liberal government this territory has seen.

If that happens, it will mean a steep learning curve for all of Silver’s rookie candidates, though he is quick to point out that a number of them have experience in government, including five current and former First Nation chiefs and Whitehorse city councillors.

“They’re all cabinet minister material,” he said during a podcast interview with the News.

But the party has arguably shown its inexperience in the last week, with Whitehorse Centre candidate Tamara Goeppel saying she may not give back the 10 proxy voting forms she helped homeless people fill out, apparently breaching the Elections Act, even as the party’s campaign chair said she was in the wrong.

What impact that incident and the ensuing RCMP investigation will have on the party’s chances remains to be seen.

Still, Silver says the Liberals have what it takes to govern, with their diverse backgrounds and varying political stripes. And he says he’s ready to lead the team, despite the “growing pains.”

“I want to give back,” he said. “So that was the whole point from the beginning, was to give back to a community that’s given me so much.

“We need to change the way we do politics in the Yukon. We need to create a more united voice, and if that’s something that the Yukon Liberals under my leadership as premier can do, then that’s a legacy that I will accept, absolutely, and work very hard to achieve.”

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