Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell needs a new catchphrase.
For the past several years, he’s been able to coast by with “they’re all in it together” as a blanket condemnation of the Yukon Party.
The implication was that every sitting member of the governing party shared blame in supporting Premier Dennis Fentie, who bought asset-backed commercial paper with tax dollars, toyed with the privatization of Yukon Energy and came to be derided for governing like a tinpot dictator.
But Fentie’s retiring, along with nearly half of the Yukon Party’s incumbents. It’ll be harder to pin these old controversies on the Yukon Party’s contenders this election, when many -Â including Premier Darrell Pasloski – weren’t in office during Fentie’s mischief-making.
This change of guard carries with it the risk of distancing the government from its own accomplishments – you can’t properly claim responsibility for the good things you’ve done, without also claiming the bad.
Yukon Party members may find themselves having to prove themselves all over again. At least, Mitchell hopes as much.
“We think we’re the party of stability,” he said. “We’re the party of balance. We’re the party of the middle.”
Mitchell, who turns 61 on Sunday, has sat in the legislature for six years. That makes him a veteran compared to Pasloski, who has yet to win a seat, and NDP Leader Liz Hanson, who has held her seat since November.
But the Liberals are making a gamble of their own by running many of the same contenders, rather than conduct a shakeup themselves before the looming territorial election, which must be held by November.
Nearly every Liberal incumbent plans to run again. That’s Don Inverarity in Porter Creek South, Darius Elias in Vuntut Gwitchin, Eric Fairclough in Mayo-Tatchun, and Mitchell, whose riding has been rejigged to become Copperbelt North.
It still remains to be seen whether Gary McRobb, the party’s long-serving MLA for Kluane, will seek re-election. He’s expected to make an announcement early next week.
If this crew is able to cling to their seats, and the party manages to expand into another riding or two, they may well form the next government.
Incumbents are generally assumed to enjoy an advantage in an election against their contenders for a variety of reasons. They’re already adept at shaking hands and kissing babies; they enjoy greater name recognition and media coverage; they already have a network of supporters in place.
Of course, incumbency is no guarantee of re-election. Just ask Larry Bagnell, who was Yukon’s long-serving Liberal MP, until he was knocked out by the Conservative’s Ryan Leef in May.
Or look back to 2002, when Liberal support collapsed in the territory. They rode into the election with eight seats and were left with just one.
It’s possible their support could crumble again.
Over the past year, the Yukon’s Liberals have seen several right-leaning former candidates defect to the Yukon Party, in a spat over the Liberals’ support of a plan to protect four-fifths of the Peel Watershed.
Meanwhile, the NDP appear to be outflanking the Liberals on social issues, by staging public meetings to discuss ways to help hardcore alcoholics and fix the territory’s housing shortage.
But Mitchell believes his party can hold the centre.
It’s possible to support mining while protecting the Peel, he said. “All this big, booming economy was created without the Peel being a part of it.”
But the NDP would go too far, he warned. “They probably would be so extreme, they would kill the industry.”
At least the NDP isn’t afraid to say what it believes. The Yukon Party clearly has reservations about protecting the Peel, but it won’t say what they are.
Mitchell’s calling on Pasloski to make their position clear. “They’ve put wrappers around this guy, and they don’t want him to say anything.”
If the Liberals formed the next government, they would create incentives for developers to build new apartment blocks in Whitehorse to broaden the rental market, and scramble to reinstate the territory’s surplus of housing stock.
This needs to be done soon. At present, mining dollars are leaking out of the territory because of the housing shortage, said Mitchell. Workers, who may reside in the Yukon if given a chance, are currently flying up to work for several weeks, then heading back Outside, and taking their tax dollars and disposable income with them.
“Mining can be very positive for the economy,” said Mitchell. “But we want the dollars to go round and round.”
As for the turncoats who left the Liberals for the Yukon Party? “They had to find some way to run against us, and they did,” said Mitchell.
The Liberal slate is filling out. So far, they’ve named six unelected candidates.
Sandy Silver, a school teacher, is challenging the Yukon Party’s Steve Nordick in the Klondike.
Mike Simon, a government electrician, is up against the Yukon Party’s Brad Cathers in Lake Laberge.
Colleen Wirth, Yukon College’s director of student services, is vying for the new riding of Copperbelt South, against the Yukon Party’s Valerie Boxall and the NDP’s Lois Moorcroft.
David Sloan, a former school superintendent, is challenging Premier Darrell Pasloski for the new riding of Mountainview.
Kerry Huff, a retired principal, is seeking Porter Creek Centre. The seat is being vacated by the Yukon Party’s Archie Lang.
Dan Curtis, executive director of Skills Canada’s Yukon branch, is challenging the Yukon Party’s Glenn Hart for Riverdale South.
More candidates are on the way. Yesterday, Christie Richardson announced she wants to be MLA for Riverdale North. She’s a mortgage broker and longtime Liberal.
The seat is being vacated by Speaker Ted Staffen. The Yukon Party’s running Scott Kent, a former Liberal cabinet minister. Peter Lesniak, the NDP’s chief of staff and a former journalist, wants to represent his party in the riding.
And Patrick Singh is seeking the nomination for Whitehorse Centre. Singh, 47, is the owner of Mark & Paddy’s Wondrous Music Emporium on Fourth Avenue, as well as the Main Street hotdog stand.
During November’s downtown byelection, Singh lost to Kirk Cameron, a management consultant and longtime Liberal insider.
But Cameron, 52, will sit this fight out.
He’s busy working for First Nations and mining companies, he said. And he concedes that the NDP’s leader, Liz Hanson, who trounced him during the downtown byelection, gathering more than half the vote, is “a very strong candidate in the downtown core.”
But Cameron will continue to stump for the Liberals in his spare time, and help the party draft its platform for the coming election.
As for possible catchphrases? Lately, Mitchell’s tried borrowing a line from the Who.
“The new boss is the same as the old boss.”
We’ll see if that does the trick.
Contact John Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.