Whitehorse Daily Star

Yukon Party's dream comes true

This election the Yukon Party asked the territory to 'imagine tomorrow' and re-elect it for a second mandate.

By Whitehorse Star on October 11, 2006

This election the Yukon Party asked the territory to 'imagine tomorrow' and re-elect it for a second mandate.

Last night 41 per cent of the voters did just that.

At the end of Tuesday night, the results put the incumbent Yukon Party government back in power for another five years with a 10 seat majority in the legislature.

The win ends the political treadmill that started more than a decade ago.

The last government to win back-to-back elections was the NDP in 1985 and 1989.

Since then the Yukon saw a political dance of the Yukon Party, NDP and Liberals each taking their turns in office.

Until last night, since partisan politics began in 1978, the only party ever to form back-to-back majority governments was the Yukon Party, formerly the Progressive Conservatives in 1978 and 1982.

It's a historic moment for the territory, said Premier Dennis Fentie.

It's a notable reversal of fortunes for a party that was devastated in the April 2000 election, when it was trounced in its worst-ever results taking only one seat in the legislature and just 24.3 per cent of the popular vote.

But now following up on the largest caucus ever won in the Yukon's history in 2002, Fentie's party increased their popular vote from that election by one per cent, with 5,503 voters casting ballots in the incumbent government's favour.

Compared to the Yukon Party's 41 per cent victory, the Liberals took 35 per cent and the NDP 24 per cent.

The four independent candidates running in the 2006 election managed to garner one per cent of Yukoners' votes for a combined total of 143 ballots cast in their favour.

The last time independents were elected to the legislature was in 1992 when Bea Firth, Alan Nordling and Willard Phelps served.

The breakdown of the 18 seat legislature is Yukon Party 10, Liberals five, NDP three.

The Yukon Party's 10 seats are spread across both Whitehorse and the communities, with an even split of five rural seats and five in and around Whitehorse.

The diversity of his team of candidates was a selling point he promoted throughout the 31 day campaign. The party presented voters with a slate that included nine incumbents, five women and three first nations.

The only Yukon Party incumbent not to get re-elected was Dean Hassard who had represented Pelly-Nisutlin during the last four years. However, after moving into Whitehorse he ran in former Liberal premier Pat Duncan's Porter Creek South stronghold.

At the end of the night he lost to Liberal Don Inverarity by a margin of just six votes.

Steve Nordick is the Yukon Party's new face in Klondike in the wake of the last November's departure of Peter Jenkins from the party and the former deputy premier's decision not to seek office in this election.

Marian Horne was elected in Pelly-Nisutlin, replacing Hassard.

Horne is the only first nations representative in the Yukon Party's caucus. But she adds a second woman to the government side.

It will be nice to have another woman colleague in the caucus, said Elaine Taylor, who was the only woman on the Yukon Party's side during its last mandate.

Taylor said, however, she was disappointed only two women will be serving in the legislature. There are no female politicians in the opposition benches, with Duncan's departure for politics and incumbent Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Lorraine Peter's loss to Liberal Darius Elias.

Beyond Hassard, Peter was the only incumbent MLA not to be re-elected.

All three leaders agreed this election was a hard fought campaign. Polls going into the election, and up to the final days, indicated it was going to be a tight race.

'I thought it'd be minority,' said NDP Leader Todd Hardy, who dropped into the Yukon Party's celebrations to congratulate its members. 'It's a close one, though. Dennis (Fentie) has got to walk a finer line now.'

For Hardy, the campaign proved a little more challenging from most.

Diagnosed with leukemia in early-August, after Fentie dropped the writ on Sept. 8, the NDP leader was forced to conduct the election by speakerphone from his hospital bed in Vancouver.

'It's not the way you want to be involved in a campaign, let me tell you,' he said.

Hardy said he was a little disappointed with the NDP's results in the election.

The leader took his Whitehorse Centre seat in a convincing victory, 146 votes ahead of his closest competitor.

Steve Cardiff, who had worked as acting leader during much of Hardy's absence, took his riding of Mount Lorne with 361 ballots.

John Edzerza also officially joins the NDP's caucus re-taking his McIntyre-Takhini constituency in just a six vote victory over Liberal candidate Ed Schultz.

Edzerza left the Yukon Party caucus and his positions of Education and Justice minister to sit as an independent this summer, stating his intention to seek re-election under the NDP banner.

'I thought we'd do a little bit better,' said Hardy of the party's three seat result. 'But it's the NDP that makes the difference in opposition so we'll be there for everybody.'

LIberal Leader Arthur Mitchell also vowed his party would be the government's watchdog.

It was the Liberal's first election under the reigns of Mitchell, who won the party's leadership in June 2005.

'Without a doubt this (election) has been the most challenging one I've ever seen,' he said.

The party took the ridings of Copperbelt, Porter Creek South, Kluane, Mayo-Tatchun and Vuntut Gwitchin.

Former NDP MLAs Gary McRobb and Eric Fairclough were both returned to office under the Liberals' banner.

It wasn't the Liberals night but the party will keep on fighting, said Mitchell, noting it will be stronger come the next election.

It proved difficult to run against a thriving economy, said Mitchell.

During the Yukon Party's first term in office, it brought in record budgets with the 2006/2007 fiscal year's topping $793 million, mining and exploration investment funneled into the territory and unemployment rates bottomed out at 4.2 per cent.

It was an election about continuing those trends, said Fentie.

A second mandate means the Yukon Party will now be able to take the territory to the next level economically, environmentally and socially, said the premier.

Maintaining a strong fiscal position while strengthening the role private sector plays in the Yukon will be important, said Fentie.

'We also want to really get to work on the investor confidence issue,' he said.

Fentie said his government will get right to work on child care, establishing its promised climate change research centre at Yukon College and updating databases relating to wildlife.

Yukoners can also expect the conclusion of the Education Act review and the implementation of the recommendations put forward in the correctional reform report during this mandate, said Fentie.

'Things of that scope are going to take time,' he said of the government's failure to conclude the initiatives during its first mandate. 'It's not a race. It's something you have to get done right. We're going to do it right.'

With 10 MLAs, Fentie will have the power in the legislature, but told Hardy over the phone, 'I know we can certainly work on issues that are important to Yukoners and produce results.'

Despite the thin majority, Hardy said not to expect to see any informal coalition with the Yukon Party or the Liberals.

'I don't form coalitions with Liberals,' he said. 'We're opposition. We'll represent the people and the NDP does it well.'

While wishing congratulations to Fentie, he told the premier both parties will continue to represent their own values and principles from opposing sides of the floor of the legislature.

Among promises made to Yukon voters by the governing party were: constructing a new school in the Copper Ridge area; implementing a comprehensive skills and trades training strategy; completing the construction of multi-level health care facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson City; building a seniors' facility in Haines Junctions; and,

no tax increases for businesses.

With an elected team that includes every one of his former cabinet ministers, Fentie said, the Yukon is set to benefit from the learning and experience earned during the first term in office.

'I couldn't be more happy,' he said.

Fentie is resting in his home riding of Watson Lake today, but will be beginning deliberations on how he wants to structure his cabinet.

The party will also be placing consideration on what legislation can be put forward immediately and preparing a supplementary budget, he said, adding he expects there to be a fall sitting this year.

The official results of the Yukon election will be declared on Monday. The close results in McIntyre-Takhini and Porter Creek South mean the two ridings will have an automatic re-count done.

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