Plotting the Yukon Party’s path back to power

Much depends on how — and how badly — the Liberals screw up

It has been over a year since Yukoners went to the polls and ended 14 years of Yukon Party dominance.

Darrell Pasloski resigned his leadership on election night but, at the time of writing, the race to replace him has yet to begin. To the best of my knowledge no one has put their name forward for the job and no timetable has been set by the party executive for a leadership race.

In a larger jurisdiction, such a lengthy delay might seem odd. But with at least three years left in the Liberal mandate there is probably no rush to fire up the engines of a leadership race either. In fact, the Yukon Party may be wise to take a wait-and-see approach, watch how the territorial Liberals govern, and then determine the best approach to unseat them.

We haven’t even received a hint yet of what will ultimately be this government’s undoing. Even if the Yukon Party had a permanent leader he or she would have little ammunition to go after the government with. So far, the best stick the opposition has found to beat the new government with has been an alleged failure to adequately consult on amendments to the Airports Act — in other words nothing that is going to get anyone besides the most partisan of partisans riled up.

There are also practical reasons to wait. If anyone outside the party caucus is interested in the job, putting his or her name forward would likely mean years of waiting to get into the legislature, possibly at the expense of gainful employment. Unlike larger jurisdictions, finding a safe riding to parachute in via a byelection wouldn’t be easy.

But, strategic and practical considerations aside, I am impatient by nature and am curious to know what the Yukon Party of the future is going to look like.

Back in the early 1990s the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party became the Yukon Party in a bid to distance itself with the unpopular PC government (which would go on to be mortally wounded in the 1993 federal election).

And while it has continued as the party that occupies the right wing of Yukon’s political spectrum and draws its electoral support from small “c” conservative Yukoners, it’s actual conservative bona fides are debatable. The Yukon Party of the past decade and a half has been an unapologetic big government party.

The 2015-2016 public accounts (the last fiscal year when the Yukon Party was solely in the driver’s seat) show the Yukon government spent $1.26 billion. That is about double what the government spent in 2004. And despite periodically lowering tax rates it also about doubled the amount of taxes it collected. The civil service has exploded, as has its pay and compensation — to the point where private sector employers now complain of feeling squeezed out. And as much as it likes to paint itself as the party most friendly towards resource extraction, our transformation into a hyper-bureaucratic jurisdiction replete with red tape took place under its watch.

Conservative voters might feel a little ripped off with the bureaucratic beast that a decade and a half of ostensibly “conservative” government created.

So what does the Yukon Party of the future look like? What does the party stand for in an era when the spend-fest appears to be over?

Given that addressing the territory’s fiscal challenges will dominate the Liberal Party’s first mandate we can expect the battle lines to be drawn there.

You can expect that if the Liberals choose deficits and debt the Yukon Party — its role in creating the current budget crunch notwithstanding — will find an opportunity to define itself in opposition to that choice. While I have opined before that deficit spending is the easy route politically there is still a constituency for living within our means.

But before the Yukon Party re-brands as the party of sound fiscal management, some period of time needs to pass so the Liberals can be made to own whatever path we are on. We are not there yet. If the Yukon Party became the voice of fiscal responsibility tomorrow it would have to continue with the disingenuous line it has been trying to sell that all was fine when it left office. That is not a good look for a new leader, nor an effective way to regain the trust of voters.

The best-case scenario for the Yukon Party politically would be if the Liberals choose to increase taxes to deal with our fiscal challenges. This would provide the Yukon Party with a large opening to carry the mantle of anti-tax populism which is as potent a political sentiment as any out there. It wouldn’t take much. A service fee increase here and a tax rate hike there would be enough for some Yukoners — despite the fact that they face one of the lowest tax burdens in the country — to start throwing crates of tea into the river.

A worst-case scenario for the Yukon Party would be if the Liberals address our fiscal challenges through spending restraint or cuts. Those centre-right voters the two parties compete for might be satisfied with the status quo, forcing the Yukon Party to find a new schtick. Maybe the Liberals will start committing some blunders and the Yukon Party will be able to make the next election about management and competence?

There are any number of ways this can go. The Liberals will eventually have to make hard choices to address the budget crunch. And in those hard choices lies the Yukon Party’s path (however difficult) back to office.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

Yukon Liberal PartyYukon PartyYukon politics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read