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The fighter vs. the phone exec

A mixed-martial arts fighter and a Northwestel executive are vying to become Yukon's Conservative candidate in the next federal election. Gerrard Fleming, 57, was the first to announce his plans to seek the nomination.

A mixed-martial arts fighter and a Northwestel executive are vying to become Yukon’s Conservative candidate in the next federal election.

Gerrard Fleming, 57, was the first to announce his plans to seek the nomination. He’s the one with the scary-sounding job: he works for Northwestel.

He moved to Whitehorse just two years ago from Burlington, Ontario. Such a short term of residency is bound to be seen as a handicap in a territory where so many remain suspicious of the Outside.

But Fleming points to the volunteer hours he’s racked up while living here. He’s chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Whitehorse Rotary Club.

He’s also served as an auxiliary constable with the RCMP, as a two-time volunteer with the Yukon River Quest, as a director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association and as a Canadian Ranger.

Fleming also suggests that he’s been up for many years—if not in body, then in spirit. He wanted to move to the Yukon ever since he spent a summer working as a firefighter in northern Ontario.

“I knew 30 years ago I was going to be here. I didn’t know I was going to have grey hair.”

His outdoorsy credentials are in good standing. He hunts, fishes and kayaks.

He once ran a business selling chainsaws, all-terrain vehicles and tractors in Ontario. Then he sold his business and worked for big companies like Hewlett-Packard before joining Northwestel.

Fleming grew up surrounded by politics. He recalls sitting down for dinner with his family at age 10 and having John Robarts, the Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario, at the table. He later banged on doors for local party candidates.

He has some curious ideas. He wants to lobby for better protection of Yukon’s waterways and to see better planning for an oil spill off the North Coast.

That’s the sort of stuff you’d usually hear from an opposition politician - such as our present Liberal MP, Larry Bagnell, who has raised these very issues.

Even more curious, when he’s asked why he thinks the Conservatives need a majority government, he recalls one of the most-hated accomplishments of Brian Mulroney’s majority government: the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.

True, the GST brought in billions in federal revenue. And true, in these belt-buckling times, more revenue is sorely needed.

But that’s in no small part because our present Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to shave two points off the GST, shortly before the global economic downturn. Whoops.

Harper isn’t liked by many Canadians, but he’s maintained power for five years thanks, in part, to the perception that he’s a competent financial manager.

Fleming can relate. He works for a company that Yukoners need, but frequently dislike.

“I’m used to it,” he said. “I work for Northwestel.”

Ryan Leef, 37, would also like to duke it out for the Conservatives in the next federal election.

He’s the assistant superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre, but he’s better known in the territory as a long-distance runner who recently decided to become a mixed-martial arts cage fighter.

Leef’s parents moved to Dawson City when he was nine. He graduated from FH Collins in Whitehorse.

Leef worked as an investigator for Yukon’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods unit, which builds cases to evict drug dealers, before taking his present job at the jail.

Earlier, he worked as an RCMP officer and conservation officer in the territory. He also helped operate Ruby Range Outfitters.

A sheep hunt he helped lead in the autumn of 2007 in Kluane resulted in a court case, in which Leef and his outfitting company were accused of driving ATVs through protected area and falsely reporting information to officials.

Leef was acquitted - although the government later appealed to the Supreme Court of the Yukon and won a decision to convict Leef of misreporting where he had hunted.

But the judge believed Leef made an honest mistake and gave him an absolute discharge, “which is the same as no offence at all,” said Leef.

Leef describes the ordeal as a humbling experience. The upshot, he said, was that he isn’t afraid to admit it when he makes a mistake.

A politician willing to admit mistakes? Sounds like a rare breed. “That’s what the Yukon is, we’re a rare breed,” Leef fires back.

“If I make a mistake, you’ll hear about it.”

Leef doesn’t do things in half-measures. A basic self-defence class he took as a conservation officer led to him holding a black belt in goshin ryu tai jutsu.

He teaches self defence courses in town, including an annual clinic for Victoria Faulkner Women’s Shelter.

He’s fought, and lost, two professional mixed martial arts matches. He’d like to do it again, but for now, he said politics comes first.

Leef says the Yukon doesn’t receive the proper praise it should in Canada for its talented artists and athletes, its settled land claims and its skilled tradespeople.

“Yukon is to Canada as Canada is to the world,” he said. “I don’t think the territory has found its proper place in the country.”

Both Fleming and Leef acknowledge that Bagnell, a longserving and popular MP, will be a formidable opponent.

They both bashed him for being armtwisted by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for helping to prop-up the federal gun registry. And both suggested that the Yukon would be better served by an MP in the government.

Darrell Pasloski, the Conservative candidate in the last election, hasn’t yet committed to whether he will run again. He’s in no hurry: the riding’s nomination race hasn’t begun, and it’s unclear when it will.

“I’m doing a review of what I’ve accomplished, and what I want to do, and I haven’t figured that all out yet,” said Pasloski.

Pasloski has also been touted as a possible candidate in the Yukon Party’s leadership election this spring. He’s not ruling out the possibility.

“I’ve had lots of people talk to me and encouraged me to make a contribution to the territory,” he said. “It’s something that I’m looking at with my wife,” he said. “It’s a big commitment.”

Contact John Thompson at