Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

PINNING DOWN THE LOCATION – Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy points out a location on a map to Premier Ranj Pillai during a stop at the MacBride Museum on Friday.

Image title

Photo by Vince Fedoroff

CO-OPERATION COMMITTED TO PAPER – Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (left) and Premier Ranj Pillai shake hands during Friday’s news conference. Dunleavy is holding a copy of the accord the two men signed, while Pillai is holding the memorandum of understanding on Alaska Highway maintenance.

Governor completes upbeat visit to territory

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

By T.S. Giilck on February 12, 2024

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Premier Ranj Pillai and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy are now officially – and politically – in the friend zone after signing an accord and a memorandum of understanding on the Alaska Highway on Friday at the MacBride Museum.

It’s the first formal sign of a relationship between the territory and the state, which seem like natural partners.

It certainly looked as if a bromance was brewing between the two leaders.

The trip also marked Dunleavy’s first-ever jaunt to the Yukon – and he’s lived in Alaska since 1983.

At a Friday news conference, neither man had a ready explanation for the long period of neglect in establishing an official goodwill relationship.

Dunleavy said he didn’t know the history on that question, but attributed much of the situation to the fact that political leaders simply “get busy with their own sovereign issues.

“And one makes the assumption that international affairs are for national governments,” he added.

“It should have happened (before), but we can’t go back in time.

“There have been some one-offs in the past, but this isn’t a one-off. The world is changing, and we should evolve as well. We see so many opportunities, especially in transportation.”

Dunleavy said, for instance, that he wasn’t expecting to learn just how important the harbour at Skagway is to the Yukon, especially the mining industry.

He compared the existing relationship between the state and the territory to two neighbours living in a subdivision waving to each other as they got into their cars, but never really striking up a conversation.

“That’s what we’re doing. We’re finding out what the commonalities are, what the interests are, and what the opportunities are.

“We’re very focused on what we can do for our people. This is the right time for this process. There’s so much to learn.

“There’s no substitute for being on the ground. I was hoping we would have great outcomes on this trip, and it’s far exceeded what I expected.”

Dunleavy said he had learned many things in the few days he was here, some startling and entertaining.

He even shared an amusing anecdote about how a Whitehorse waitress identified him immediately as an Alaskan.

As soon he ordered ranch dressing for his salad, Dunleavy said the waitress asked him if he was American from Alaska.

Apparently, that’s not a common order in the Yukon by locals or Canadians.

Pillai said, “We’re both in a position where this has been an area of interest for a long time.

“It just kind of fit at this point. It’s the right time, and we see the opportunities, and we came into the conversation where we had a lot of the same ideas of what we could work on.

“I’m just happy we’re here now, and looking forward to the next couple of steps.”

There were few specific details released about the accord and the MOU concerning highway issues.

“We’ve been working in collaboration with the state on a series of collaborations,” Pillai said.

“We’re looking to go to the U.S. federal government for some money to go toward the maintenance and upgrades to the Alaska Highway.

“It’s the most collaboration we’ve ever had with the state on a shared piece of infrastructure,” he continued. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

In a news release that followed the signing, Pillai continued to gush about the meetings.

“It was a pleasure to welcome Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy on his first official visit to the Yukon. By working together and pursuing common goals, we aim to shape a future of shared opportunities for our region.

“This visit signifies a key milestone in strengthening our relationship, fostering a collaborative path towards a more interconnected future for both Alaskans and Yukoners.”

Dunleavy was equally effusive.

“The Alaska Highway is the only road link between Alaska and the Lower 48, and the vast majority of traffic on the Canadian portion of the road is American.

“By working co-operatively with our neighbours in the Yukon, we can help ensure that people travelling to or from Alaska on the road are able to do more safely with fewer road hazards.”

Pillai continued to talk up the two documents, saying the accord will address several important themes between the partners, especially infrastructure.

What’s known as the Shawak agreement, originally signed in 1977, saw the U.S. government fund many millions of dollars’ worth of Alaska Highway improvements in the Yukon. It was a recognition of the road’s importance to Alaska tourism and for traffic to and from the state’s military facilities.

Money under that arrangement, however, has dwindled in recent years, and parts of the North Alaska Highway have continued to be plagued by heaving primarily caused by melting permafrost.

Last Thursday, after his arrival, Dunleavy and Pillai spent some time attending meetings with various Yukon groups, including business leaders.

Pillai also issued a friendly challenge to Dunleavy about the results of the upcoming Arctic Winter Games in Alaska.

Whichever jurisdiction winds up with the most medals will see its leadership wearing items from the winner.

“Best of luck to you,” Dunleavy quipped.

“I was afraid I was going to have to shave my head,” he added, in reference to Pillai’s new look of the last year or so.

The governor was accompanied by State Commissioner of Fish and Game Douglas Vincent-Lang, State Commissioner of Transportation and Public Facilities Ryan Anderson and State Commissioner of Natural Resources John Boyle.

Dunleavy, Vincent-Lang, Pillai and Environment Minister Nils Clarke discussed fish and wildlife conservation and management.

The Yukoners took the opportunity to showcase the territory’s landscape and wildlife to the Alaskan delegation firsthand.

As well, the premier and the governor met with Dr. Ken Coates, the chair of the recently-announced Yukon Arctic Security Advisory Council.

They discussed the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit+ People (MMIWG2S+) Strategy and cross-border co-operation.

Comments (2)

Up 32 Down 8

Wes on Feb 13, 2024 at 7:21 am

I keep waiting for our premier to concentrate on issues affecting Yukoners immediate issues.
And waiting….

Up 29 Down 8

YT on Feb 13, 2024 at 7:17 am

“We’ve been working in collaboration with the state on a series of collaborations,” Pillai said”

Lemme guess, a comms wonk told Ranj to use “collaboration” a lot.
Meanwhile, our health care system crumbles.

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