Whitehorse Daily Star

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GETTING ACQUAINTED – Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with Doug Phillips shortly after naming him as the new commissioner of the Yukon on Tuesday afternoon on Parliament Hill. Photo by DEB RANSOM, PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

Choice of next commissioner praised

Doug Phillips is a solid selection to succeed Geraldine Van Bibber as the territory's commissioner, say several Yukon politicians.

By Chuck Tobin on December 1, 2010

Doug Phillips is a solid selection to succeed Geraldine Van Bibber as the territory's commissioner, say several Yukon politicians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement Tuesday with Phillips at his side on Parliament Hill.

"I think Doug is an excellent choice for this position,” Yukon Senator Dan Lang said Tuesday from his office in Ottawa.

"He has served the public in many ways. He has been a great volunteer in many organizations and he is very fond of the outdoors.

"He is just a great, all-'round citizen of the Yukon.”

Lang sat with Phillips as opposition members in the legislature through the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were members of the Yukon Territorial Progressive Conservative Party, the predecessor of today's Yukon Party.

Phillips, the senator said, does not take on any job halfheartedly.

Premier Dennis Fentie echoed Lang's sentiments this morning.

"We are pleased the prime minister has chosen to appoint Mr. Phillips as our commissioner,” Fentie told the Star.

"Doug Phillips has served on a number of capacities for Yukon, for many years as an MLA, most recently as chair of the Yukon's land use planning council, and he served as the territory's administrator for the last few years.

"All in all, we think Mr. Phillips will make an excellent ambassador.”

Phillips began his political career in 1985, only to see his and Conserative government leader Willard Phelps' party ousted by the New Democrats, led by Tony Penikett.

He served as the Riverdale North MLA for the next 15 years, succeeding former government leader Chris Pearson, who did not run again.

Phillips served as a cabinet minister with John Ostashek's 1992-96 Yukon Party government, and left public office in 2000, when he chose not to seek re-election.

Phillips told the Star late Tuesday afternoon the appointment was not a total surprise. The process began several weeks ago with a request to let his name stand. That was followed by an interview process.

And late last week, the 63-year-old Phillips said, he got the big call.

"I flew down to Ottawa (Monday) and spent the day meeting with Indian Affairs people ... and got the commissioner-101.”

At approximately 3 p.m.Tuesday, Ottawa time, Phillips met with the prime minister, who made the official announcement, and the pair posed for photos.

"We just chatted, and he asked a bit about myself, then they invited the press in and the prime minister gave a statement,” Phillips recalled of the appointment.

"(Harper) said he ‘was pleased to appoint' me. I said, ‘I was happy to do the job,' and in the end I invited the prime minister to come to the Yukon, bring his family and spend some time here.”

While Van Bibber's term as commissioner expired Tuesday, Phillips' current job of Yukon administrator – what he describes as another way of saying "assistant commissioner” – will ensure the territory is not without its "head of state” before Phillips' official swearing-in ceremony.

That is expected to take place in the coming weeks, likely in the foyer of the Yukon government administration building.

In addition to Phillips' service to the territory as a former MLA and cabinet minister, he used to be a commercial pilot, and was involved in one of the more unusual air rescue stories in the Yukon.

It was Nov. 7, 1971 when a CP Air Boeing 737 shepherded a small Cessna to safety at the Whitehorse airport.

Four young people, Red and Shirley Lewis, Dave Young and pilot Doug Phillips were in the Cessna 172, sightseeing around the Tagish Lake area south of Whitehorse when the weather turned foul.

With daylight fading fast, along with fuel, Phillips began circling and radioed the airport in Whitehorse for assistance, but without radar navigation, the small plane was in serious trouble.

Meanwhile, on the regular CP Air flight from Vancouver into Whitehorse, Capt. Ron Wood picked up Phillips' distress calls, and advised him to keep circling.

Wood landed his 737 in Whitehorse, offloaded passengers and 20 minutes later, he and first officer Brian McMahon took off to look for the Cessna.

By this time, Phillips had estimated he had only 15 minutes of fuel left. Then he spotted a light in the distance, which was the CP Air 737.

As the Cessna was capable of little more than 100 knots, the 737 had to make several passes to guide Phillips and his Cessna passengers safely into Whitehorse airport.

Phillips is a hands-on kind of guy,Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said from his office in Ottawa yesterday after learning of the appointment.

He pointed out back in the 1990s, while serving as minister of Tourism, it was Phillips who would jump in his camper and tour around to get a first-hand feel for tourist services in the territory.

The job, he explained, is not just about being a figurehead.

It can present serious issues which call for serious decisions, said Bagnell.

"I have known him a long time, and I think he'll make a great commissioner,” Bagnell said. "I know Doug has done an excellent job as administrator and has been very non-partisan, which is a good feather in his cap.”

"I congratulate him on his appointment,” Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell said Tuesday. "I am not surprised at all.”

Mitchell said in addition to the last 3 1/2 years serving as the administrator to the commissioner, Phillips brings with him a deep passion for the territory.

"It was a logical choice and a good choice,” he said. "It is a good thing he has such an outgoing personality, because Geraldine Van Bibber is going to be a hard act to follow.”

"I think he will be a fine commissioner,” Van Bibber said on the eve of her departure from office.

She said she'll be meeting with him in the next couple of weeks to go over a couple of files.

"I think Doug will be good for the role,” said Van Bibber. "He has a very good sense of humour.

"I hope he enjoys the position as much as I did.”

See editorial

By Chuck Tobin


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