Yukon premier to hand over party leadership

Yukon's longest-serving premier, Dennis Fentie, is set to retire after members of his party select a successor this weekend in Whitehorse.

Yukon's longest-serving premier, Dennis Fentie, is set to retire after members of his party select a successor this weekend in Whitehorse.

Outgoing Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie announced last month that he will step down as Yukon Party leader after members choose his successor on Saturday. The new leader will become interim premier after that. ((CBC))

Fentie, a 60-year-old former truck driver and businessman, is winding down a 15-year political career that includes nine years as premier and leader of the Yukon Party.

Last month, Fentie announced that he will not seek another term as party leader or run in the next territorial election, which must be called by this fall.

So whoever wins the Yukon Party leadership on Saturday — Jim Kenyon, Darrell Pasloski or Rod Taylor — will also take over the premiership from Fentie at the end of a transition period.

Yukon Party members will vote for their new leader between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. PT on Saturday. The results are expected to be announced later that night.

Former New Democrat

First elected as an NDP MLA for Watson Lake in 1996, Fentie crossed the floor to the right-leaning Yukon Party in 2002 and became its leader shortly after that.

Later in 2002, the Yukon Party toppled Pat Duncan's Liberal government and won a majority government. The Yukon Party won another mandate in 2006.

With the party's current mandate expiring in October, Fentie has yet to say when an election will be called. It will now be up to Fentie's replacement to announce the election date.

Fentie is leaving politics during the territory's modern mining boom, which has been credited in part to the mining industry's approval of the Yukon Party government.

Over his two terms in office, Fentie has spent billions of dollars building up Yukon's infrastructure and cultural life.

However, he leaves behind persistent social problems such as a shortage of affordable housing and concerns about alcohol and drug abuse among Yukoners. As well, questions remain about the future of the territory's energy supply.

Survived controversy

Fentie became the subject of controversy in 2009 when revelations surfaced that he tried to sell Yukon Energy Corp. assets to ATCO, a private company.

Those revelations led to one of Fentie's top cabinet ministers at the time, Brad Cathers, leaving the Yukon Party caucus  to sit as an Independent MLA.

Cathers publicly alleged that Fentie "lied to the public and MLAS" about his involvement in talks with ATCO, but Fentie denied those claims and later survived a no-confidence vote  in the legislature.

Fentie was also criticized by Cathers and others for his gruff and often bellicose leadership style, but the outgoing premier has made no apologies.

"As far as leadership, there's actually only two kinds: passive and aggressive. And guess which one I was?" Fentie told CBC News in an April 27 interview.

But others, like former chief Joe Linklater of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon, praised Fentie for putting the territory first.

"I've never known him to be anything but straight up and honest with us as a government," Linklater said, adding that Fentie has helped Yukon First Nations deal with the federal government.

Candidates make final pitches

Meanwhile, the three men vying for Fentie's job are making their final pitches to Yukon Party members on Friday.

Pasloski, a Whitehorse businessman, and Taylor, an area tourism operator, have both received endorsements from cabinet ministers, MLAs and other top party members in the past week.

That has left Kenyon, a current Yukon Party MLA who was most recently economic development minister in Fentie's cabinet, as the only candidate with no high-ranking public endorsements.

But Kenyon said he is not fazed by the lack of endorsements, arguing that unlike Taylor and Pasloski, he has actual experience in government.

"I've got an 8½-year track record," he told reporters in Whitehorse earlier this week. "I'm not saying what I will do; I'm saying what I did do. Can I do the job? Yes."

All three candidates have touted Yukon's robust economy under the Yukon Party government, but Kenyon said he alone, as economic development minister, can take some actual credit for the economy.