“It is game seven of the Stanley Cup finals and I feel like we have just gone through double-overtime,” an ecstatic Duncan told her elected colleagues and no fewer than 200 overjoyed Liberal campaign workers and supporters.
“Today, Yukoners have spoken, and they have told us that they heard the Yukon Liberal message, they heard our message about doing government differently. They have heard our message about restoring accountability and professionalism to the legislature.
“They heard our message that we as a government will do what we say we will do,” said the 40-year-old Liberal leader.
Duncan and her 16 running mates stormed the New Democrats out of power and obliterated the already-ailing Yukon Party, raising their count in the 17-seat legislature from the four they had to a majority of 10.
The Liberal success, however, was entirely based in and around the capital. The New Democrats hung onto six rural seats, with the Klondike’s
Peter Jenkins hanging onto the only thread of the tattered Yukon Party.
From the 18,282 eligible voters, the Liberals received 42.6 per cent of the popular vote, up a full 18.6 per cent from 1996.
In her own riding of Porter Creek South, Duncan won handily with 607 votes – or 64 per cent of the total vote cast, the single-largest show of support for any of the Liberal candidates. In comparison, Yukon Party candidate Larry Carlyle secured 235, and New Democrat Mark Dupuis earned 103.
Yukoners, Duncan said in her victory address, have placed their trust in the Liberals, and the party accepts and appreciates that trust.
“We, as a government, have a responsibility to each and every Yukoner, not just the ones who voted for us, and will work hard to represent each and every person....” she said.
“My government will put Yukoners ahead of politics, no matter where they live.”
Shortly after her address to party supporters, Duncan met privately with the defeated Government Leader, New Democrat Piers McDonald.
In a brief interview following the meeting, she declined to speculate how rapidly the change in government will be. (It was about 2 1/2 weeks in 1996.)
“Mr. McDonald is committed to organizing an orderly transition and I am sure it will be,” she said.
She also declined to speculate on how large her cabinet might be. She did reiterate, however, her intention to move ahead with the key components laid out in the NDP budget.
Though the budget was tabled in late February, it did not receive approval by the legislature before McDonald made his election call March 13.
The record $502-million spending blueprint, however, was held up by the New Democrats to be their platform.
But from the day the election was called, Duncan maintained the Liberals would not shred the 2000-2001 budget if elected because it would cause too much uncertainty for Yukoners and communities depending on an uninterrupted flow of financing.
She said again last night that’s still the case.
She was quick to suggest, however, that before anything gets written in stone, the Liberals want to make sure the money’s in the bank, just like the NDP says it is.
“We are going to go in and look at the books, and then we are going to go in and look at the commitments.”
Aside from a handful of intermittent election results that went contrary to the Liberal wave last night – like the first declared seat going to the New Democrats in Old Crow – party headquarters at the Gold Rush Inn was a town hall of energy.
Any election night jitters by Grit supporters turned quickly to elation as results started to pour in after 8:30.
Elation turned just as quickly to near-euphoria as Yukon Party Leader John Ostashek fell to Liberal Don Roberts, as NDP cabinet ministers Dave Sloan and Lois Moorcroft were swept from office by the Liberal tide.
And every time results were telecast from the McIntyre-Takhini riding of McDonald, there was uproarious applause, from the very first of seven polling stations reporting right through the end.
The din became louder with each return reported, because every time, it was first-time Liberal candidate Wayne Jim leading the socialist icon and the longest-sitting member of the legislature.
At around 9:15, Jim’s rout was complete, as he became the first candidate to unseat a reigning government leader – the Liberal hall was having a ball.
“I took out the government leader?” Jim commented, almost in disbelief, but certainly in relief. “You are going to have to pinch me tomorrow and tell me it’s true.”
Allan Taylor, a campaign worker for Jim, was, however, unwavering in his early-evening prediction of success for his candidate and long-time friend.
Support, he said, was solid in the McIntyre subdivision, but support for Jim stretched beyond the aboriginal segment of the riding.
Yukoners wanted change, Taylor predicted.
“Take a look at what happened in the last four years. Nothing,” he said.
Retiring Liberal MLA Jack Cable was somewhat more reserved in his optimism at the outset, though he confidently predicted an increase in Liberal seats, and a jump in the overall percentage of support the party would receive.
“Beyond that, the crystal ball is really smoky but it will start to clear up around 8:45,” Cable quipped.
“There are a lot of seats that are almost dead heats. We are duking it out with the NDP.”
Mayor Kathy Watson, a Liberal party supporter, also predicted early in the evening a two-way race between the Liberals and New Democrats.
“There just seems to be a wind of change out there, and I think the credible parties have identified themselves in the Liberals and NDP.”
And while she wouldn’t pick any numbers, she’d heard public comment that indicated Yukoners were looking for a new government.
“We been here for 34 years,” Paul Stehelin said of his family’s history in the territory. “We’ve been Liberal for 34 years, and this is a historic night.... It’s a great day to be a Liberal.”
Yukoners were looking for change; looking for a fair government, an open government, said Stehelin, as the tide was rising.
“It’s time that the Liberals were given a chance to do a good job.”
In an obviously-coordinated bit of timing, it wasn’t until a dejected but stoic McDonald completed his television address to the deflated NDP troops that Duncan led her elected Liberal team into the inn’s Town Hall.
As the tune Praise You by Fatboy Slim poured out the sound system, the government-leader elect and successful candidates were hugged and adored as they moved through the room.
Duncan’s smile alone could have lit up Whitehorse.
Her address was frequently punctuated by electrifying applause.
“A balanced approach to the Yukon; that is what you asked for and that is what the Yukon Liberal government will provide,” she said.
Duncan said the Liberals have heard Yukoners’ concern over the environment, industry needs, tourism and forestry.
“These are all important to our Yukon way of life, as are our social programs,” she said. “We cannot have any one of these at the expense of the other. They are all important.”
To cap off her address, the Liberal leader introduced the 10 successful Whitehorse and area candidates one by one, starting with two-time Riverdale South representative Sue Edelman.
Lake Laberge MLA Pam Buckway, the only other re-elected Liberal, was next. Don Roberts, still beaming from his coup over Yukon Party Leader
John Ostashek, followed Buckway, and the crowd just kept getting more energized.
Through the list they went, and last but not least, as Duncan put it, was Jim, the candidate who toppled the NDP’s king.
And the crowd went nuts, with the loudest cheer of the night, accompanied by a chant “Wayne, Wayne...!”
“We were very confident of the win,” Shayne Fairman, a long-time Liberal mainstay and Duncan’s campaign manager, said in a interview afterwards, in a setting away from the heat of the celebration.
“We had done our door-to-door in Whitehorse.... Frankly, it seems like there were two different campaigns: there was the campaign we saw talking to people at the doorstep and there was the campaign being reported by the media.
“We had a good feeling and we just went about our jog quietly and confidently through the campaign.”
The 20-year party member – whose Liberal roots go back to his high school days and spreading the Liberal theme along the clay bluffs along the Yukon River – said Liberal support started out strong, and swelled continually.
Admittedly, he said, party organizers were having trouble believing the Liberal sweep was being unleashed even in McIntyre-Takhini, although support numbers Jim was turning in were consistent.
“But I guess results on election night bore out what we were hearing at the doorstep,” said Fairman – with an impervious grin.
By Chuck Tobin, Star Reporter