An open letter from Sandy Silver
On Saturday, Jan. 14, Ranj Pillai became the Yukon’s 10th Premier, and started his journey leading our territorial government.
Countless Yukoners know Ranj — and many of us have known him long enough to have our own stories about him. As one of the few who have known him the longest, I want to share some reflections with Yukoners about the Ranj I know, about the connection he and I share, and why I believe that Premier Pillai is the leader for the Yukon’s future.
Ranj and I are both from Nova Scotia, as many of you have teased us and/or bonded with us about for decades, and we owe our roots to that province. While not at the same time, he and I both attended Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, played many hours of basketball on the same courts around the region, and learned that regardless of your upbringing, regardless of the circumstances you and your family faced, you could always rely on your community. This familiar Yukon trait is present across the Atlantic region, as any Yukoner from the east coast would attest to.
That shared foundation — that community is everything — meant that before I actually met Ranj, I had a strong sense of who he was. We shared many mutual friends. Once we did meet, not too long after Ranj’s best friend, Paul, and I first drove up to the Yukon in ‘96, it didn’t take long for me to see that Ranj is the man who so many in the territory now know — he is a brother, a family member, and a rock for this community. He has invested his time and efforts in the territory for decades, professionally in the private sector and within numerous levels of government, as well as in his own personal life.
The Spell of the Yukon exists — Ranj embraced it.
In the realm of government and politics, there is little that Ranj hasn’t been involved in. From executive director of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Whitehorse city councillor, Yukon Liberal Party president, minister, and deputy premier, Ranj brings a tremendous degree of experience to his new role. But perhaps the most powerful trait he brings is the ability to add seats to tables and to convince and encourage those who haven’t yet sat around one to take their place in leadership. I know that reality well — he’s the one who convinced me to get involved.
My entry into politics may seem unique, but for anyone from Dawson City, it also sounds on brand. Following a territorial election, I was standing around a bonfire at our aforementioned friend Paul’s place, speaking about the discouraging election results progressives had just had. Ranj was there, and he asked the most appropriate question to pose to someone jawing off about an election result:
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
Ranj planted a seed, and challenged me to think about how I could make a positive impact for Dawson, and for the Yukon. I started thinking about what my community had given me, and what I could do to give back to it. I had a good five years to start thinking about that new responsibility — that new conviction — that Ranj instilled in me before I first took my seat in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
More than 11 years later, Ranj continues to inspire me. For years as a minister in my government, I have watched him take on and grapple with tremendously large files and problems, and address them with the singular focus: what path will best serve Yukoners?
The Ranj who is now the premier is not just a highly experienced public servant. He is a son, father, husband, community member, and an avid lover of the beauty of our territory. If you don’t find him in a government building, you are probably finding him out on the land hunting, or out and about with his in-laws, learning more about Yukon First Nations values and culture. In each of those situations, whether you’re packing away meat together with a friend after bagging an animal, or listening to the wisdom of an elder, growth and rejuvenation happens. This is where Ranj finds his rest and comfort when outside of government.
The Yukon is a big place, and we need a leader with big ideas, and an even bigger vision for what the territory can become. We have the fastest-growing population in the country, and our strong economic growth is the envy of other jurisdictions. But to address issues of cost of living, housing challenges, and the impacts of climate change, we need an experienced leader who already has the experience, and who has already built productive relationships throughout the territory.
Ranj is this leader.
I wish every Yukoner could have the opportunity to know Premier Pillai as I do. To have shared the laughs I have had with him. To have constructively argued with him passionately over the years, like a brother. To have had his support in periods of loss, as well as in victory. I take comfort in the knowledge that many Yukoners have indeed seen what I have seen, heard what I have heard, and also share the conviction I have that he is precisely who we need to lead the Yukon. Because of who Ranj is, we know the kind of leader he is, and the kind of leader he will be as our premier.
Premier Pillai has my unwavering support as he leads this wonderful territory we call home into the next chapter of our rich history.