Travill flies a new political banner

It’s election year in the Yukon, and the parties are ramping up their campaign machines. Most recently, the Yukon Liberal Party appointed a…

It’s election year in the Yukon, and the parties are ramping up their campaign machines.

Most recently, the Yukon Liberal Party appointed a campaign chair: Mike Travill, a one-time hopeful for the leadership of the Yukon New Democratic Party.

Travill defected from NDP ranks to deliver a five-year, majority mandate to the Liberals, he said.

“It was a well-thought decision,” Travill said Thursday.

The Yukon Party has “run the territory into the ground,” he said.

Its policy of “spend quickly, spend now” hasn’t achieved any sustainable economic development.

“They’ve had the largest budgets, and now the surpluses are gone,” said Travill.

“The Liberals and (leader) Arthur Mitchell have a solution to get us through,” he said.

“Of the three leaders, Mitchell is the best qualified to run the finances of the territory.”

Travill is the Yukon workers’ advocate, a government employee who pleads the cases of injured workers to the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

He survived being crushed in a steel mill in Alberta in the 1980s, and started working union desk jobs.

Travill met Mitchell in the 1990s, when Mitchell sat on the board executive.

They debated the merits of workers’ claims, and Travill found Mitchell to be a “sound decision-maker.”

“You’re not going to find anyone more ethical than (Mitchell),” he said.

Travill describes himself as “left-centre,” and, as any politician will say, he believes the territory needs to achieve balance between industrial investment and environmental and social protection.

But he definitely hails from the “social side of things.”

Two weeks ago, Mitchell asked Travill to manage the Liberal campaign.

“The fact that Mike has taken on a role doesn’t mean that other people weren’t working on this for quite some time,” said Mitchell.

“There’s certainly a lot of work going on, and we’ve got a lot or prospective candidates and we’ll make those announcements at the appropriate time.”

The Liberal Party’s executive handed Travill a well-developed campaign plan, he said.

All Travill has to do is implement it.

“We’re ready to go,” said Travill. “No problem.”

It was Mitchell’s business skills and balanced approach that won Travill over.

“Premier Dennis Fentie wants oil and gas and any cost,” he said.

“Todd Hardy wants to protect the environment.

“Arthur wants to strike a balance.”

Liberals are often labeled fencesitters who cherry pick ideas from both Conservatives and New Democrats.

Travill dismisses that assessment, saying Mitchell is capable of “drawing people from the social side to the centre. Look at me.”

Travill was a card-carrying New Democrat for years, and helped run several campaigns in Edmonton before moving to the Yukon eight years ago.

Travill ran twice for the leadership of the Yukon Employees Union, and lost both times.

He also lost a 2002 bid for the NDP leadership to Todd Hardy.

But Travill’s defection to Mitchell’s camp wasn’t caused by sour grapes, he said.

He subsequently campaigned for Hardy in Whitehorse Centre.

“Todd has the corner on a large number of social programs,” said Travill.

“But are they sustainable?”

Travill wasn’t a Liberal until about a month ago. He wasn’t involved in the party’s spring leadership campaign that exposed rifts between the various camps of Mitchell, Ed Schultz and former leader Pat Duncan.

That makes Travill a credible choice as the campaign’s central organizer, since he can bridge the gaps.

There are no dissenters, he said.

Still, the transition from NDP to Liberal won’t be easy.

Travill has a lot of friends who are “hardcore NDP.”

And some of them are bound to call him a turncoat.

“The public really has a distaste with people whose convictions are shallow,” said Hardy, citing the recent example on the federal scene of former Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson defecting to the Conservative cabinet.

“I wouldn’t say call them opportunists, but they’re looking for opportunities, and they shop,” said Hardy.

“I’m the only (territorial) leader that hasn’t betrayed my party.

“Mitchell used to be with the Conservatives, he’s now a Liberal.

“Fentie used to be with the NDP, he’s now a Conservative.

“Todd Hardy still believes strongly, very much, in the values of the NDP.”

Travill was never a “shaker and mover” with the NDP, has never been on the party’s executive and hasn’t been involved with the party in a long time, he added.

“He has sought the leadership of many things and has not been successful.

“With a track record like that, good luck.”

Both teams — the Liberals and NDP — say they’re ready for an election.

The campaign could begin at any time — whenever Fentie decides to call for the dissolution of the legislature, which must happen before November 11, 2006.

Campaign teams must be ready for a 31-day race at a moment’s notice, if they want to win.