The past two years have presented a steep learning curve to Liz Hanson, who emerged from retirement to lead Yukon’s New Democrats through a period of rebuilding.
Hanson, 54, had retired in 2007 from a career in the federal civil service. Her last role was as regional director-general of the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Department (now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) in Whitehorse.
But two years after retiring, Hanson put her name forward as a candidate to replace Todd Hardy, who was stepping down as Yukon NDP leader to battle leukemia.
At the time, Hanson admitted that she originally put her name in to make the leadership race an actual contest. Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff had been the only candidate, but he withdrew from the race days before Hanson declared her intention to run.
"I think it's really important to the rebuilding and revitalizing of this party that it be contested," Hanson told CBC News in an Aug. 3, 2009, interview.
When she was acclaimed as NDP leader that fall, Hanson inherited a party that had tumbled from government status in 2000 to third-party status in 2006.
Months before the 2006 territorial election, Hardy ousted two of his own members – Kluane MLA Gary McRobb and Mayo-Tatchun MLA Eric Fairclough – after they had mused about crossing the floor to another party. Both members joined the Liberals, which became the Official Opposition.
The NDP was left with three seats after the October 2006 election. McIntyre-Takhini MLA John Edzerza left the party fold in 2009, sitting as an Independent for a few months before rejoining the governing Yukon Party.
Adding to the NDP’s situation was Hardy’s four-year battle with acute lymphoid leukemia, a cancer of the blood. Hardy died on July 28, 2010.
Hanson, who had already taken over as NDP leader, won a byelection in Hardy’s riding of Whitehorse Centre on Dec. 13, 2010. Hanson joined Cardiff in what became a two-person NDP caucus in the legislature.
"We've seen ... is a revitalizing of the hope in the NDP and what I'm hoping is that tonight is just the beginning," she told supporters when she was elected.
"First we take Whitehorse Centre, then we take the Yukon."
But tragedy struck the NDP again on July 6, 2011, when Cardiff was killed in a highway crash on the South Klondike Highway.
Cardiff’s death left Hanson as the NDP’s sole MLA as the party began preparing for this fall’s general election.