Stepping down as premier won't affect government's commitments, says Yukon Premier Sandy Silver

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver announced Friday that he will be stepping down from the role as soon as the Liberal Party picks a successor. Silver spoke with CBC's Dave White about his decision and what it means for the future.

'I'm not going anywhere until the next election'

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver at an event last year to release the Liberal party platform. (Julien Gignac/CBC)

One way or another, the Yukon will have a new premier by 2025.

Premier Sandy Silver announced Friday that he will be stepping down from the role as soon as the Liberal Party picks a successor.

He also announced he won't be seeking re-election as MLA for Klondike.

Silver has held that seat since 2011.

Silver spoke with CBC's Dave White Monday about his decision and what it means for the future.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

So — you're still the Premier right?

Absolutely, and I will be until the convention. That's up to the executive to decide when that'll happen — I would assume probably not for months to come.

You've been in the Legislature for a while; you've been the premier for a while. What led to your decision to make this announcement on Friday?

Well, it's about timing — timing for the government, for the party, and also for me. I never really did set out to be a career politician. And I believe wholeheartedly in the direction that we're moving in as a territory. At the same time, I need to reconnect with the people that mean everything to me, the people of Dawson City, the people that have given me everything in my life.

You know, before being MLA — which is the best job I've ever had — my best job I'd ever had was as the high school math teacher at Robert Service School. And this job, it really does take you away from your home. Being an MLA, the job is in Whitehorse. And then as a minister or a premier, even more — and then you add a pandemic onto that and I'm rarely, rarely home. So 11 years in public office, that's a long time.

I think once I made the decision, I needed to let people know as well. And so I want to ensure that the party itself, the Yukon Liberal Party, has enough time to select a new leader and can continue to move the territory forward. It's all about timing.

Why not just step down, have a byelection and walk away?

We have a commitment through our platform and our mandate letters, and we have a lot of work to do. We've done so much in the past six years, but we still have some more things to get accomplished. So my announcement doesn't trigger an election, and I have no plans on calling an election.

Are you concerned that, once there is a party convention and the leader is chosen — and presumably if that leader comes from the ranks — they'll be sitting in the Legislature with the former premier? Isn't that going to be a bit weird?

No, I don't think so. We make decisions as a team. My ministers are extremely dedicated to not just reading their own files, but all the files that come in through cabinet, through our management board or other executive committees. They're really dedicated to that whole government approach. We've made a lot of strides in that, so no, I don't think that'll be strange at all. We rely on each other's past experiences and wisdom as MLAs, because we get fed wisdom from every single person in our constituency. And it shouldn't be any different.

Now, it would be very interesting to see somebody coming from outside to challenge for a nomination. This has always been a party of a grassroots movement, moderates that need to be able to see the good decisions from both left and right of centre. And it'd be welcome to see some new fresh eyes as well, whether that be in the MLA roles or in putting in your name to run for premier.

Currie Dixon of the Yukon Party, the leader of the opposition, is worried that the fall session and subsequent sessions will just be campaign platforms for people that want the job. What would you say to that?

I disagree. He's entitled to his opinions, but I don't think that'd be so. Again, look at the track record of the ministers and myself. We have a job to do, and we're going to continue to do that job.

Does this have any impact on the agreement you signed with the NDP? Did you give [NDP party leader] Kate White a heads-up?

Kate and I talked immediately after my announcement. We've been keeping in constant contact all summer, as well. I believe that the CASA — the Confidence and Supply Agreement — will remain in place. I'm not going to speak on behalf of Kate, obviously, but I would assume that we're continuing to go down that path. If anything, [there's] a desire to continue past the expiration date of CASA, so [we're] fully ready to continue down the road of extending the agreement if that's something Kate wants to do.

Give me your assessment of the kind of shape the Yukon Liberal Party is in.

I think we've shown a way toward a prosperous future. That's by working collaboratively and respectfully with First Nations governments; we've revitalized the Yukon Forum, which is absolutely critical not only for joint priorities and strengthening trilateral agreements with the federal government; through our Yukon Days; and also through the pandemic, to have all these working groups established and having a good rapport with chiefs during some very trying times in Yukon's history. Together, we kept the Yukon safe.

Take a look at what we've done for health care, what we've done with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — being the only jurisdiction in Canada to respond to the National Inquiry. We've reduced harm in communities through supervised consumption sites. We had an infrastructure deficit when we started, and we had a shortage in housing and health care, we were in a recession. This is the best economy in Canada with a ridiculously low unemployment rate of 1.7 per cent; the best GDP throughout the pandemic — you know, we have the mining moving forward at the same time as considering our obligations to the environment. I think we've done a lot in six years.

It's been the honour of my life to represent the community of Dawson City here in Whitehorse, but also to be premier and represent Yukon on a national and international stage. We were very busy this summer on all of those pursuits. My announcement is at least showing folks that I won't be seeking reelection, but from now until the next election, I'm here to say that we have a lot of work left to do. And we'll continue to keep the sweat equity at the same high levels.

The housing crisis is definitely a crisis in the territory, and there are lots of issues with the Department of Education. So it's not all sunshine and roses — you do have some work to do.

Well, even with First Nations, these are tough conversations. Our previous government didn't legislate, they really didn't. They didn't try to work on these issues. We have the population growing at 12.5 per cent, and housing growing at the same rate. If our population wasn't booming so much, we'd be seen as getting a little more ahead of the housing issues, but we've done a lot of work in all those capacities. To be leaving the school system when I did ... and then fast forward to today, where we have eight schools that are on the First Nations School Board, we've come a long way, that's for sure.

There's still a whole bunch of issues, absolutely. There's issues with a growing GDP and a strong economy. Opioids as well. Mental health — what we've done for mental health in rural Yukon, going from two mental health workers to over 20 plus four hubs, and it's still not enough. I absolutely agree there's still work to be done. But I think in the last six years, we've proven that we are a working bunch of ministers and MLAs. And we're going to continue down that road until the last day.

Do you know what you're going to be doing next?

I'm originally from Nova Scotia and had the opportunity to go back in August for some holiday time. There's nothing necessarily back there for me as a home — Dawson's my home. This is where I live, and so I'm just really looking to reconnect with some of the amazing people I used to volunteer with for different organizations or events. And just reconnecting with my friends. I'm in my early 50s and my friends' kids, over the last 11 years, are getting bigger and going through life events without me. That's something that kind of wears on you. So to be able to get back to spending more time in the Klondike, that's about as far as I thought. But I'm not going anywhere until the next election.

With files from Dave White, Airplay