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EDITORIAL: Time for the Yukon Party’s opening act

Having a competitive leadership race could be good for the party

With the announcement this week of a second person vying to become leader, the Yukon Party officially has a race on its hand.

Assuming Brad Cathers, Currie Dixon (and any others who might choose to join them) avoid the pitfalls of their federal counterparts, and the loser doesn’t skulk off to form his own fringe party promising to build a fence around the territory, having a proper leadership race is good for the Yukon Party.

If done right, a leadership race is a chance to discuss issues that matter to party faithful and potential voters. It’s an opportunity to gain momentum and demonstrate to anyone watching that your party has the kind of policies and enthusiasm to make it a viable option the next time Yukoners are filling out a ballot.

This race will presumably have more opportunities to flush out issues and positions than the NDP got when Kate White was acclaimed as their new leader earlier this year.

The Yukon Party has been without a formal leader since Darrell Pasloski stepped down following the 2016 election. Waiting this long for someone to officially take over the reins pushed the decision closer to the next election.

Hopefully the competition will force candidates to not waste the opportunity.

Dixon is young and charismatic and could signal a shift away from the party’s old guard. That could be valuable to the Yukon Party against someone like Sandy Silver whose party won the 2016 election largely based on his likability.

Dixon’s a former cabinet minister who did not run in 2016 but was campaign chair for the Yukon Party when it went from a majority government to official Opposition status.

Though the Yukon Party lost that election, many of the ridings were very close.

While Dixon may be framing himself as a new option, choosing to take a few years out of the spotlight does not absolve him of some of the skeletons he collected while he was a minster.

Dixon was environment minister during key moments of the Yukon Party’s losing battle over the Peel watershed.

He was the minister who rather unadvisedly informed this paper that “the numbers don’t matter” after it was revealed the Yukon Party had omitted data from its consultation report on the Peel plan.

It’s unlikely party faithful will care about Dixon’s history with the Peel — he was, after all, touting the party line — but it might make it difficult to chip votes away from the Liberals or the NDP.

After more than a decade and a half in politics, Cathers won’t be able to play up a “new guy” persona. He’s more likely to frame himself as a consistent presence with years of institutional memory and — for those who haven’t been paying close attention — an impressively encyclopedic knowledge of policy, procedure and political history.

While Dixon chose not to run Cathers stayed in the trenches and has had a front row seat to the Liberals’ struggles and soft spots which would be beneficial in the next campaign.

Cathers has shown a knack for getting under the Liberals’ skin, even if it is sometimes through immature chirping from the opposition benches in the legislative assembly.

His career hasn’t been without its own struggles.

In 2015 then-minister Cathers was shuffled from Community Services to Justice after Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said he couldn’t work with him. The year before, Whitehorse city council voted unanimously to ask that Cathers be removed.

As it turned out, Dixon took over the portfolio.

In 2009 Cathers resigned from former premier Dennis Fentie’s cabinet alleging Fentie misled the public and ministers about plans to privatize the Yukon Energy Corporation.

Cathers sat as an independent but remained a member of the Yukon Party. He returned to the fold under Darrell Pasloski.

We will have to see how long of a memory Yukon Party members have and whether any of that will influence their decision.

The possibility of Silver calling an early territorial election has already been discussed in these pages. That means that Cathers and Dixon are not just campaigning to those with a Yukon Party membership card. They have a small window where other people will be paying attention.

On your mark, get set, go.