Former Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie has died

Dennis Fentie, 68, was premier of Yukon from 2002 to 2011. The Yukon Party said Friday that Fentie died after a battle with cancer.

Fentie, 68, was leader of Yukon Party and premier from 2002 to 2011

Former Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie, seen here in 2009, has died at age 68. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Former Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie has died.

A spokesperson for the Yukon Party confirmed Friday morning that Fentie had died after a battle with cancer. He was 68.

Fentie was MLA for Watson Lake, first elected as a New Democrat in the 1996 election. He crossed the floor to join the conservative Yukon Party in 2002, and quickly became leader. He then led the party to a majority government in the 2002 election, ousting Pat Duncan's Liberals. 

In a statement on Friday, current Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said Fentie "had a tenacious spirit and always fought for his constituents and for Yukoners no matter the issue.

"Over his nine years as premier he was instrumental in negotiating a better health care funding agreement between the territories and Canada as well as for getting improvements to the territorial formula financing arrangements. Thanks to the hard work of Dennis, Yukon has made huge progress in implementing devolution and growing up as a territory."

Premier Sandy Silver extended his condolences to Fentie's family, friends and former colleagues.

"Mr. Fentie was a respected leader who served as Yukon's premier for nearly a decade and passionately represented the people of Watson Lake and southeast Yukon for 15 years in the Yukon Legislative Assembly," Silver said in a statement." 

"As an MLA, he fought hard to ensure rural Yukon communities were at the forefront of decision making in the territory."

In a statement, Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill thanked Fentie for his years of public service.

"The territory lost a legend today," Bill's statement read. "Dennis Fentie was a passionate leader who worked tirelessly to ensure Yukoners have the same level of services as the rest of Canada. He was a strong voice for Yukon at the national level who was not afraid to stand up for the needs of our territory."

Speaker Nils Clarke also extended condolences to Fentie's family and friends, on behalf of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Flags outside the Legislature are flying at half mast out of respect for Fentie.

Fentie gives the thumbs up as he speaks with former Nunavut Territorial Leader Paul Okalik following a meeting of The Council of the Federation in Vancouver, in 2008. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Yukon Party was reelected to a majority government under Fentie in 2006. He stepped down before the 2011 election, to be succeeded as Yukon Party leader and premier by Darrell Pasloski.

"He did preside over a very strong economy for many of those years," said Whitehorse Star editor Jim Butler.

"He was on the Yukon negotiating end of negotiations for improved federal transfer payments and they were constantly on the upswing as they are now. He presided over the devolution of important services in 2003 which expanded the size of government and also expanded the territory's ability to control land resources."

Before entering politics, Fentie worked for many years as a businessman in logging, tourism, mining, trucking and fuel distribution, including owning and managing Francis River Construction Ltd. in Watson Lake. He also acted as director of the Association for Yukon Forests and director of the Watson Lake Chamber of Commerce.

The City of Whitehorse tweeted Friday morning that its flags would fly at half-mast to mark Fentie's death.

With files from Chris Windeyer and Paul Tukker


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