Where was Todd Hardy?
Or better, where was the NDP leader who for the past four years has stood up and blasted Premier Dennis Fentie on ethics, accountability … on everything?
The problem wasn’t energy.
Hardy, just recently back from Vancouver and still receiving chemotherapy treatments for leukemia, had a surprising amount of verve at the leaders’ forum hosted by CBC radio on Wednesday.
“I’ll tell everyone right now, I’m running on steroids,” said Hardy. “I am revved up and ready to go.”
The room erupted into laughter.
But Hardy saved his juice, his famous socialist scorn, for the same leader Fentie targeted during the two-hour debate: Mitchell.
In fact, had a tourist from Manitoba wandered into the room they would think Mitchell was the incumbent premier defending his record.
Hardy sure wasn’t making Fentie do that, despite Fentie calling the election for October 10 instead of waiting, as Hardy asked.
There were plenty of opportunities.
A question from the floor about sole-sourced contracts was one, though the questioner premised it by stating, incorrectly, the $31-million athletes’ village was sole sourced.
“We’ve never seen this level of sole-sourced contracts,” said Mitchell, on the offensive against Fentie.
“I think it’s really incredible that we spent so much to bring in a series of portable units,” he said.
Fentie told the questioner his facts were “patently false” then turned on Mitchell.
“I have to, it should be no surprise, disagree with Mr. Mitchell, that somehow this facility is mobile. It’s not mobile, it’s a permanent structure,” he said.
And Hardy couldn’t resist.
“I’ve had a problem with the cost,” he said before turning to Mitchell.
“Mr. Mitchell doesn’t understand what it is. It isn’t modular units.
“I don’t defend the cost. But I know a lot of people that worked up there, and I hope they’re not being slagged about it.”
The gang-up makes political sense.
Mitchell and a re-invigorated Liberal party threaten both the Yukon Party and the NDP.
Soft votes from either the centre-left or centre-right appear to be flowing to the Liberal centre on Tuesday.
Both need to take steam out of the Liberals, not each other.
Little wonder, then, that Mitchell, not Fentie, was on the defensive.
Fittingly, on the question of sole-source contracts — a continual black eye for the Yukon Party — it was Fentie lashing out at Mitchell’s proposals to tighten regulations and remove perceived conflicts.
“All Yukoners, be warned,” said Fentie.
“Why should Yukoners who might have a connection to an elected person be precluded from accessing government contracts?
“That’s not what the Yukon Party is about. We will never, ever allow that situation to happen.”
Hardy and the NDP are proposing much the same thing as the Liberals.
Eyes gazed at Hardy, waiting for him to take a swipe on sole sourcing.
“Now we’re getting to conflict of interest aren’t we?” he said.
Then, with nary a breath, “but, going back to Mr. Mitchell . . .”
Halfway through the debate, Mitchell brought up Peter Jenkins, the former deputy premier in Fentie’s cabinet who owed more than $300,000 to the government for years. Jenkins left the party, or was kicked out, when the matter was set to go to court.
The Liberals are proposing an act that will not allow ministers to owe money for more than 30 days.
“Why did it take three years to reach across the cabinet table and tell him to pay up or get out?” Mitchell asked Fentie.
Fentie countered that Mitchell doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.
“You cannot undermine or dilute the contribution that Mr. Jenkins has made representing the riding of Klondike,” said Fentie.
He let Fentie take a breather, blasting Mitchell and the Liberals for blocking whistleblower legislation in the last sitting in the all-party committee.
And he portrayed Mitchell’s situation as similar to Jenkins’.
“He made an accusation against a minister … I’m not going to defend that minister … but there’s a great deal of similarity in numbered companies, in land holdings and everything,” said Hardy.
“If Mr. Mitchell would have been in his situation, he would have been facing the same accusations of conflict of interest.”
“Hear-hear,” said Fentie.
Mitchell owns several numbered companies, stocks, as well as shares in Yukon development companies.
Throughout the night he looked plain, dull and scripted — in contrast to Fentie’s bravado and Hardy’s passion.
And he did himself few favours on some issues.
Discussing the territory’s labour shortage, Mitchell said the government is “actively recruiting” workers from the private sector — and that needs to stop.
“At the end of the day it’s the businesses that create the jobs,” said Mitchell.
Creating an environment where the two aren’t in competition is the answer, he said.
“What we need to do as government is to recruit our own employees and not be poaching, so to speak, from the private sector,” he said.
Fentie called him on the poaching comment.
So did Hardy.
“It goes both ways, Mr. Mitchell. The private sector is poaching jobs from the government, said Hardy. “And if they can entice their public servants into the private sector, all the power to ‘em,”
As the meet wound down, each was offered closing comments.
And the two old friends — who were backbenchers in Piers McDonald’s NDP government — joined forces one last time.
As Mitchell took to the microphone, Hardy and Fentie — who had blasted Mitchell on ethics —chatted loudly and laughed.
Afterwards, the message from both of them was no different.
“The Liberals — making a drastic mistake in strategy — said to Yukoners they’re going to run on ethics,” said Fentie.
“Considering their conduct, especially Mr. Mitchell’s, I would suggest they’re running on empty.”
Despite Fentie’s four-year record in government to dissect, Hardy focused on Mitchell.
“I think Mr. Mitchell has a lot more to explain,” he said after the debate.
“We’ve beat up on Mr. Fentie many times, and he takes it; he gives it back.
“Mr. Mitchell hasn’t been scrutinized.”
Mitchell felt he held his own and can take the high road on ethics.
“I don’t need advice on ethics from Dennis Fentie,” he said.
“If I have interests that need to be sold, they’ll be sold,” he said.