EDITORIAL: Could a federal minority in Ottawa mean an early Yukon election?

Politically speaking, it might not be bad to call an election early

Yukoners sure know how to keep things interesting.

Journalists’ keyboards were busy until the wee hours of the morning following the federal election writing about the race to be the one and only MP for the territory.

Instead of wrapping things up quickly so that some reporters or campaign staff could go home or at least breakout the post-vote libations, Yukon was kept waiting for the last poll to find out who won.

Larry Bagnell will be the Yukon’s MP for a sixth term by 153 votes, but there’s no guarantee of how long that term will last.

The federal Liberals are now trying to run the country as a minority government. That all but guarantees that they won’t be serving their full term before the next election. It’s not unreasonable to assume that it could be as few as two years before they lose the confidence of the other parties and we’re all back at the polls again.

And just like that, Yukon political parties find themselves in an interesting position.

If the minority federal government only lasts two years, the next federal election could happen around the same time as Yukon’s territorial election. That is unless Premier Sandy Silver decides to call a territorial election early. An early election is something the brains behind the Yukon Liberal operation should at least be considering.

The minority government in Ottawa has put the leaderless Yukon Party in a particularly difficult position.

The Yukon Party has waited nearly three years already to elect a new leader. As every year passes it becomes clearer the party faithful are hoping for a new leader outside of the six MLAs currently in office.

Territorial parties are less well-funded than their federal counterparts. The Yukon Party does not have the cash to pay a leader’s salary. That means the job would be unpaid until the un-elected leader presumably won a seat during the next election.

You can’t expect the party leader to do the job unpaid for very long. If they happen to be a government bureaucrat they’d probably have to quit their job to run for party leadership. That’s likely why the party waited.

But the minority government in Ottawa changes the calculations. The shortlist of people who might be considering a run for Yukon Party leadership could decide they’’d rather wait the shorter federal term length and take a shot at MP instead.

That includes Conservative candidate Jonas Smith. Smith ran an effective federal campaign that nearly unseated Bagnell. He has the kind of name recognition now that would help him lead the Yukon Party. (He could just tweak his ubiquitous bus signs.) But maybe he’d rather try again for Ottawa.

Calling an election now would leave the Yukon Party scrambling for a leader in uncertain times. That would be to the Liberals’ advantage.

No one knows that better than Silver himself the importance of momentum ahead of a territorial election. The 2016 Yukon Liberals weren’t elected because of some ground-breaking platforming with earth shattering ideas. Their platform was, if we’re honest, kind of boring.

They were elected, at least in part, because they started early.

The Yukon Liberals announced their first batch of candidates – John Streicker, Rod Taylor and Tamara Goeppel – more than a year before the election.

It didn’t matter that Taylor quit before the race even started, and Goeppel would go on to be charged and convicted under the Elections Act making her likely the only candidate in Yukon history whose party was grateful she lost.

By the time the NDP started naming its candidates the Liberals had already gained all sorts of momentum and established themselves in the minds of Yukoners who wanted to kick out the Yukon Party as the most viable option.

Newly-minted NDP Leader Kate White is going to have to steal some of Silver’s old tricks ahead of whenever Yukoners go to the polls. If the NDP wants to go from a two-seat party to government, it going to need to start early.

Silver calling an election early would force the NDP to rush to find candidates and avoid the kind of momentum that lead to a Liberal win.

The Yukon is currently running a deficit and the budgets are so tight at this point that there’s no guarantee the Liberals will actually be able to balance the budget in time for a 2021 election. Honest bureaucrats tell us that major projects like the Resource Gateway mining road plans will not be done on schedule to be a hallmark of the next election campaign.

If the fighting in the Yukon legislative assembly is any indication, there’s no chance that any major electoral reform will be in place by 2021. And if the anger from the Yukon Employees Union is a sign of things to come, who knows what the Liberals’ relationship with public servants is going to look like in a few years.

There’s no guarantee that Silver will have a better image in two years than he does now. It’s worth considering whether kneecapping his opponents instead might be a good idea. (AJ)

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