Yukon Party leadership race heats up

If there's an heir apparent in the three-man race to lead the Yukon Party, it would appear to be Rod Taylor. The 51-year-old dog musher announced his plans to seek the party leadership yesterday at the Westmark Hotel. Sitting to either side of him were two heavyweights in Yukon's political world. To the left: Elaine Taylor, Yukon's deputy premier, minister of Tourism and Culture and the Public Service Commission.

If there’s an heir apparent in the three-man race to lead the Yukon Party, it would appear to be Rod Taylor.

The 51-year-old dog musher announced his plans to seek the party leadership yesterday at the Westmark Hotel. Sitting to either side of him were two heavyweights in Yukon’s political world.

To the left: Elaine Taylor, Yukon’s deputy premier, minister of Tourism and Culture and the Public Service Commission.

To the right: Scott Kent, a former Liberal cabinet minister and past executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

Like all of the candidates who are seeking to lead Yukon’s governing party, Taylor stuck to one thinly-veiled theme while explaining why he should be leader.

He’s not Dennis Fentie.

“I have no baggage,” said Taylor. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”

Taylor only had warm words to say about the current premier. But, like Jim Kenyon and Darrell Pasloski, who are also vying for the top job, he promises to lead in a style quite unlike Fentie, who has been accused of being a bully, misleading the public and conducting business behind his ministers’ backs.

In contrast, Taylor vowed to lead by consensus. “You have ministers and deputy ministers for a reason. At the end of the day, you let them do their business.”

Taylor also promised to end the sarcastic back-and-forth in the legislature.

“I think everyone is fed up with this,” said Taylor. By providing “respectful” answers, he would help “set the tone.”

“I want to hear from everybody. I want to hear from the opposition members.”

“If, at the end of the day, they come up with better ideas than me, they should be in power.”

Unlike the other candidates, Taylor has the public support of at least one cabinet minister.

“I really appreciate that Rod Taylor is upfront,” said Elaine Taylor, no relation. “He tells it like it is. There isn’t room for innuendo. And he’s here to listen.”

As she spoke, two other Yukon Party MLAs watched from the back of the room: Community Service Minister Archie Lang and Speaker Ted Staffen.

Neither have committed their support to a candidate.

“We’re having a look,” said Lang. “We have 28 days.”

But no elected Yukon Party MLA attended the campaign launches of any other candidate.

Fentie has not yet announced whether he intends to run – he has until May 7 to do so. But Rod Taylor said the premier is supportive of his bid to run.

“He said, ‘this would be great for the party.’”

“I’d be very surprised if he endorsed anybody,” said Taylor. “He wants a hard-fought race, and that’s in the best interest of this party.”

Taylor distanced himself from his past lobbying to protect the Peel watershed, as chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

The association supports the recommended plan to protect 80 per cent of the vast, Scotland-sized swath of northern Yukon. Taylor now only supports protecting half of that.

Taylor once slammed the government for showing “contempt for the planning process,” when it came to light Fentie had quashed a Department of Environment submission that had a pro-conservation leaning. Now he follows the Yukon Party speaking notes about the importance of “following the process” spelled out in the Umbrella Final Agreement.

His resignation as TIA’s chair was announced yesterday, shortly after he made public his leadership bid.

Taylor wants to protect the Three Rivers – the Wind, Snake, and Bonnet Plume – which are a major attraction for ecotourists. Together, they make up roughly 40 per cent of the Peel.

“Some protection is warranted,” said Taylor. “But at what cost?”

Other issues are just as important, such as building more affordable housing and ensuring there are enough doctors to go around, said Taylor.

“I think we need to be real careful we don’t make the Peel the only issue,” he said.

Taylor only became a Yukon Party member at the recent annual meeting. But he was in talks with the party as a potential candidate far earlier than then.

His lack of previous party affiliations would help him “grow the base” and sign up new members, he said.

Earlier, Taylor had been in talks with the Liberals to be their candidate. But he decided the Yukon Party best matches his values, which he says are “right of centre, small-C conservative.”

Taylor lives in the riding of Lake Laberge, which is currently represented by Brad Cathers, who quit the Yukon Party caucus after fighting with Fentie over the ATCO energy privatization scandal. Cathers currently sits as an independent.

It remains unclear whether Taylor would try to take Cathers’ seat.

“I don’t know how all of this is going to play out,” said Taylor. “But I have a lot of time for Brad.”

In contrast to Taylor’s pitch that the party needs a new face, Kenyon’s key selling point is the experience he’s racked up during two terms in office.

“It’s not a learning curve. It’s a learning wall,” he said during his announcement earlier that day in the main lobby of the Main Administration building, which was attended by two reporters, one photographer and no supporters.

“Do you really need someone who is learning their job during the first or second year?”

The 64-year-old minister of Economic Development was responsible for Yukon Energy while Fentie was hatching plans to sell-off the utility’s assets to Alberta-based ATCO.

He’s long remained silent about his role in the controversy. Others, such as Willard Phelps, former chair of Yukon Energy, asserted that Kenyon didn’t know about Fentie’s plans until late in the process, and that when he found out, he threatened to quit.

Kenyon later denied all of this in the legislature. “It did not happen,” he said. “None of it is true.”

Well, parts of it were untrue, he now maintains.

Kenyon still asserts he never threatened to quit. And he only saw a seven-page backgrounder detailing Fentie’s plans to sell-off Yukon Energy’s assets more than two years after it had been prepared, he said.

When the controversy became public, “it left me in a very embarrassing situation,” said Kenyon. “I didn’t know what was going on, and to this day, I still don’t.”

Fentie violated the Westminster system of government’s rule that “you stay in your ministry,” said Kenyon.

Fentie has downplayed ATCO’s bid to gobble up Yukon Energy’s assets by describing it as an “unsolicited bid.” But “in my opinion it was solicited,” said Kenyon.

And contrary to Fentie’s assertions otherwise, Yukon Energy’s assets were on the table, said Kenyon. When cabinet found out, they agreed to stop the plans, he said.

Kenyon stayed on with Fentie, he said, because he feared that his departure would trigger an election and put the Liberals in power, which, he said, would have been disastrous to the economy.

“To me, it was more important to keep the economic push going.”

After saying all of this, Kenyon reflected on how he had granted very few interview requests over the past four years.

“Again, not my choice,” he said.

If Kenyon were premier, he’d let ministers do their jobs without meddling, he said.

“You get the best people available and you let them work.”

The third contender for the Yukon Party’s top job is Pasloski, a Whitehorse pharmacist who ran for the Conservatives during the previous federal election. The 50-year-old announced his plans at the Gold Rush Inn yesterday with his wife, campaign manager and agent.

Pasloski claims credit for Ottawa’s decision to pay $71 million to unify Yukon’s power grids and expand the Mayo hydro-electric facilities. But he couldn’t explain his exact role in bagging that money.

Like everyone else, he promised to take a “collaborative Team Yukon approach to leadership” and to respect “ministerial responsibility, which is of fundamental importance to the proper functioning of our democracy.”

One of his big selling points? “I wasn’t a part of the things that happened in the past.”

Pasloski’s campaign is being managed by Darren Parsons. He’s managed the political campaigns of right-leaning politicians “at the highest levels” for two decades across western Canada, he said.

He grew up in Haines Junction, Carcross and Whitehorse, and recently returned to the territory.

“I like to battle socialism wherever I find it,” said Parsons.

Yukon Party members vote on May 28. It’s one member, one vote. Members from outside Whitehorse will be able to telephone in their votes.

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