Whitehorse Daily Star

Ostashek: What you saw is what you got'

John Ostashek, who served as the Yukon's government leader from 1992 to 1996, died Sunday night in Vancouver after having been medevaced there last week.

By Whitehorse Star on June 10, 2007

John Ostashek, who served as the Yukon's government leader from 1992 to 1996, died Sunday night in Vancouver after having been medevaced there last week. He was 71.

Friends are remembering the former Yukon Party leader as a no-nonsense, stand-up guy who was hard-working and true to his word.

'He was not a politician's politician,' Doug Phillips, who served in Ostashek's cabinet, told the Star earlier this afternoon. 'He was just sort of a common guy who would just take a situation and deal with it.

'There was no grey area with John; it was only black and white.'

That's not to say he wouldn't listen and change his mind if he was convinced of another approach to a problem, Phillips said.

He said he was also a leader who believed in the skill of senior government managers and the need to let them do the work without micromanaging.

'I think he was respected by many of the deputy ministers who worked for him.'

Ostashek was appointed leader of the Yukon Party in advance of the 1992 territorial election, when his party unseated former NDP premier Tony Penikett.

He refused to take the title of premier from Penikett, and instead reverted back to what was back then the more traditional title of government leader.

Ostashek and his Yukon Party colleagues were defeated in 1996 by former NDP government leader Piers McDonald, and he served as leader of the official Opposition until his retirement in October 1999, prior to the 2000 territorial election.

Phillips described Ostashek as a self-made man who was quite successful in building his big-game outfitting business that he purchased in the Kluane area in the mid-1970s.

He later sold the business but continued with the development of a small farm along Kluane Lake, and continued to fly passengers on tours over Kluane National Park.

'He was a matter-of-fact guy,' said Phillips. 'He was one of the old-time Yukon guys what you saw is what you got.'

Ollie Wirth, owner of the Burwash Landing Resort, was friends with Ostashek for the last 25 years, since his arrival to take over the resort business back in 1982.

From the very start, Wirth said this afternoon, Ostashek was hospitable, and provided Wirth with a place to stay for a while.

'I'm going to miss him, because he was my old fishing buddy,' he said. 'It was great knowing him. He was a hard-working guy, and he was a good guy.

'If he said something, you knew it was OK and you could depend on it.'

Speaker Ted Staffen announced Ostashek's death in the legislature when it convened this afternoon. MLAs observed a moment of silence for the late government leader.

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