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Turning over a new Leef

The Yukon's Conservative MP is working to establish a mixed-martial arts caucus for his fellow parliamentarians. Of the crowd of 30 MPs he roped together two weeks ago...

The Yukon’s Conservative MP is working to establish a mixed-martial arts caucus for his fellow parliamentarians.

Of the crowd of 30 MPs he roped together two weeks ago, Leef is likely the only one to have rumbled in the octagon at the Armegeddon Fighting Championships.

But his pitch to launch a national anti-bullying campaign that taps public enthusiasm over MMA received an enthusiastic response, he said.

Leef hopes to see the caucus formalized soon. He’ll be asking to be its chair.

The idea arose after Leef hosted an anti-bullying MMA workshop in Carmacks this winter. The workshop drew flak from critics, who wondered whether teaching kids how to fight is the best way to combat bullying.

But it proved a hit with the kids who attended, said Leef. “It’s a great way for adults to connect to youth, in a nonpreachy way.”

The 37-year-old has become used to polarizing the public since leaping into public life seven months ago. He quickly learned that you can’t be all things to all people.

“It’s never been my goal in life to upset any Yukoners,” said Leef. “Now, it’s an inevitable outcome.”

Leef worked as a corrections boss at Whitehorse Correctional Centre before taking office. Previously, he worked as an RCMP officer and as a wilderness outfitter.

He compares his new job to being a cop. “It’s information gathering, understanding clients, listening and trying to find solutions,” he said.

Leef defends the Conservative government’s decision to invoke closure to shut down debates to a degree that critics say is unprecedented.

In most cases, the issues had been debated in previous sittings, and the bills were merely making good of Conservative election commitments, he said.

In many cases, debates are poorly attended by MPs, who usually flock to take their seats during Question Period. “If it’s that important, I’d expect to see every member of the opposition sitting there.”

Yet Leef hopes to see fewer debate shutdowns in the future, he said. “For new business, I’d like to see that taper.”

The omnibus crime bill that recently cleared the Commons received widespread condemnation by lawyers, criminologists and opposition parties, who all warned it would result in a pricey prison-building spree, and little reduction in crime, which is on the decrease already.

Much of this misses the point, said Leef, who saw a crowd of protesters swarm his office as the bill passed Parliament.

“The law wasn’t introduced to stop crime,” he said. “It was introduced to deal with crime.”

By that, he means punish criminals. That, at least, is the intention behind imposing mandatory minimum sentences, he said.

The government already spends millions on crime-prevention programs, he said. Leef supports this work, but he said changes are needed to support victims of crime.

Mandatory minimum sentences are just a small part of the omnibus crime bill, said Leef. Other changes will allow victims to provide input to parole board hearings.

“That’s positive, for the victim and the offender,” said Leef. “I’ve seen offenders’ lives change while sitting down with victims.”

And Leef offered one more reason to support the crime bill. It’s popular. “Canadians want it,” he said.

The opposition parties have spread “tremendous misinformation” about the crime bill, said Leef. “The sky isn’t falling with that. If it were, I’d be speaking out.”

But Leef agrees with his critics that climate change is a pressing concern in the Yukon. “For me to argue with that is crazy,” he said.

But, asked about the Conservative government’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, Leef pleads ignorance. “I don’t completely understand the Kyoto accord,” he said.

Canada was accused of obstructing climate talks in Durban. But Leef wonders if critics have overstated Canada’s sway. “Decisions need to be made by other countries,” he said.

And the Kyoto accord was a bunk deal from the start, Leef contends. It was signed by the Liberals, and “when Jean Chretien did that, he had no plan, and they didn’t reduce emissions,” said Leef.

While getting tough on crime is popular with many Canadians, levying a new tax on carbon is decidedly not.

“Individually, we still want to have our trucks, heat our homes with fuel and wear clothing made of oil products,” said Leef.

Still, he continues to receive his share of angry emails about this and other matters. He tries to answer them diplomatically.

“When we don’t agree, that doesn’t mean I haven’t listened,” he said.

Contact John Thompson at