Yukon politicians and others are remembering NDP MLA Steve Cardiff, who was killed in a car crash on Wednesday, as an elected official who "wore his heart on his sleeve."

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Steve Cardiff, shown in this June 10 photo outside the Yukon legislature in Whitehorse, was killed in a car crash on the South Klondike Highway late Wednesday. (CBC)

Cardiff, who had represented the Mount Lorne riding near Whitehorse since 2002, was killed in the crash on the South Klondike Highway Wednesday afternoon. He was 54 years old.

"Steve has worked in just about every community throughout the territory. He's a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and had a passion for the people of this territory," Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson told CBC News.

The RCMP's initial investigation into the crash revealed that Cardiff's pickup truck had somehow crossed into the opposite lane, hitting a tractor-trailer, police said on Thursday.

"They found that a 1998 black Chevy S-10 pickup truck was proceeding north on the South Klondike Highway and for an unknown reason, crossed the centre line and struck a southbound transport trailer," said RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers.

"As a result of that, both vehicles were badly damaged."

RCMP said Cardiff was ejected from his vehicle and was found deceased at the scene. The driver of the tractor-trailer was sent to Whitehorse General Hospital with minor injuries, according to police.

Caucus office open

Donations

Yukon NDP officials say Cardiff's family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one's choice of three Whitehorse-based organizations:

  • Blood Ties Four Directions, an HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis C information and support centre.
  • Angel's Nest, a youth shelter that is run by the Youth of Today Society.
  • Kaushee's Place, a crisis shelter and transition home for women and their children who are fleeing abuse.

"Steve had the utmost respect for the contributions the workers and volunteers of those organizations have made to the territory over the years," according to an NDP caucus release.

Hanson said the NDP's caucus office at the Yukon legislature will be open Thursday so that members of the public can sign a book of condolences for Cardiff's family.

In a statement issued Thursday, Premier Darrell Pasloski of the governing Yukon Party called Cardiff "a man of conviction who showed the courage and passion of his convictions in serving his constituents."

Health Minister Glenn Hart said Cardiff was a passionate opponent who threw himself wholeheartedly into his job as an MLA and was proud of his roots as a tradesman.

"He wore his heart on his sleeve many times, both in the house and outside the house," Hart said.

"Steve was a very good representative of the working man. I think he saw himself as their representative."

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell said his favourite memories of Cardiff were "when he would lose control of his emotions — either tearing up or having anger — because it was genuine about how he cared for Yukoners."

Worked as journeyman

A Yukoner since 1976, Cardiff had worked as a sheet metal journeyman for 20 years before entering politics. He served for 16 years as local president of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, according to his biography on the Yukon legislative assembly's website.

It was through his work that Cardiff met Todd Hardy, who later became Yukon's NDP leader. Hardy's wife, former NDP MP Louise Hardy, said Cardiff was quick to help others and he always put his family first.

"The last time I saw him, he was dancing on the deck of the S.S. Klondike on his marriage day [in April] and he was so happy," she said.

During the 2006 territorial election campaign, Cardiff filled in as NDP leader for Todd Hardy, who was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.

After Hardy passed away in July 2010, Cardiff stood up in the legislative assembly chamber to deliver a tribute to the late leader.

"No one man can sum up another's life in the few moments that make up a brief tribute," an emotional Cardiff said at the time.

First Nation leaders extend condolences

Hanson attended the Council of Yukon First Nations' general assembly in Whitehorse on Thursday morning, but chiefs cancelled a question-and-answer session with her in light of the circumstances.

"My colleague Steve has been here for the last couple of days, and he and I had both planned to be here this morning … to talk with you about the future of the Yukon, the importance of change, positive political change, for this territory," Hanson told the chiefs.

"The issues you've identified are incredibly important and we do want — and I do want — to engage with you when the time is right."

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie, along with various local chiefs, extended condolences to Cardiff's family and the NDP.

"I definitely knew what a good guy he was, his dedication, and his sincere commitment to addressing First Nations' issues," Massie said.

'He genuinely cared'

"He's going to be sadly missed, and right now it's just hard for me to talk about issues," said Chief Norma Kassi of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon.

Joanne Henry of the Committee on Abuse In Residential Schools, a Whitehorse-based outreach agency for former residential school students, said Cardiff came to help when it was at risk of closing.

"He just did what he could to help us get our word out. And it wasn't because he had to do it, it was because he genuinely cared about what we were doing," Henry said.

"I'll always remember that, and I'll always remember him."

Frank Turner, who served with Cardiff on Yukon College's board of directors years ago, said Cardiff cared for everybody in society.

"Integrity, a strong work ethic, and passion. And [he was] smart. He kind of had the full package," Turner said.