Yukon ex-premier proposes new party

Former Yukon premier Willard Phelps wants to form a new political party that he says will move away from partisan bickering and root itself in consensus building.

Former Yukon premier Willard Phelps wants to form a new political party that he says will move away from partisan bickering and root itself in consensus building.

Phelps said Thursday he wants to create the new party by the end of this month, with the goal of giving voters an alternative to the governing Yukon Party and the opposition Liberals and New Democrats.

"It's time for change. We need to create a new non-partisan party that will unite people rather than divide them," Phelps told reporters in Whitehorse.

Phelps said his party — which does not have an official name yet — would be "open to new ideas, respectful of the opinions of each and every member … one that seeks consensus on major issues, particularly within its membership."

A Progressive Conservative MLA, Phelps served in 1985 as interim government leader, which at the time was the territorial equivalent of premier, then as opposition leader until 1991.

After the party was renamed the Yukon Party in 1992, Phelps was a cabinet minister in the new Yukon Party caucus until 1996.

Yukon Energy controversy

Phelps was thrust back into the limelight in June, when he quit as chairman of Yukon Energy Corp. and accused current Premier Dennis Fentie of secretly meeting with Alberta-based company ATCO over privatizing the public utility.

Phelps then leaked a confidential joint discussion paper that showed Fentie's government and ATCO talked about merging Yukon Energy with ATCO-owned Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd.

News of the talks created a public uproar and caused Brad Cathers, a high-profile member of Fentie's cabinet, to quit the Yukon Party caucus and sit as an Independent MLA.

Cathers's resignation suddenly placed Fentie's government in a minority position until another Independent, John Edzerza, crossed the floor to join the Yukon Party.

The Liberals and NDP have since been grilling Fentie, who has insisted he was never in negotiations to privatize Yukon Energy.

Cliques and cronies

Phelps decided to move forward with the new party after results of a recent DataPath Systems poll showed 64 per cent of Yukoners surveyed do not support the three current parties.

The poll also found that nearly 50 per cent of those surveyed would support Phelps if he ran in their riding.

Phelps said Thursday he is fed up with the "cliques" and "cronies" of current Yukon politics, and instead wants to form a party that represents a broad cross-section of Yukoners.

"We want left, right, unions, corporations," he said. "We want First Nations, we want young [and] old. Of course, female and male."

While Phelps said his party's platform has yet to be determined, his proposal is already piquing the interest of people like former Liberal MLA and cabinet minister Don Roberts.

"It sure as heck can't be worse that what we have. I think we have to try something different," said Roberts, who also sat as an Independent MLA.

Roberts said he would consider re-entering territorial politics under the less-partisan party, but he said it may be hard to persuade other Yukoners to join in.

"The apathy is huge," he said. "I would like to think that this, again, will ignite some desire to do the right thing."

The first organizational meeting of Phelps's new party will take place Nov. 18 at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse.