There was a most interesting article in the Toronto Star today. Depressing but true:
Yukon politicians far from pure as driven snow
DAWSON, YUKON—With a black belt in martial arts, a glistening bald head and a Husky’s ice blue eyes, cage fighter Ryan Leef is a Conservative candidate itching for a fight in the political arena.
Leef, 37, is trying to unseat Liberal heavyweight MP Larry Bagnell, a decidedly less ripped, but widely popular MP who has represented a remote northern riding the size of Spain since 2000, when he won by just 70 votes.
Bagnell looks hard to beat this time around.
Which may be why Conservatives are going for broke by sending a challenger best known for brief bouts in the Armageddon Fighting Championship’s octagon — and for being found guilty of breaking a wildlife protection law when he was a conservation officer — into the no-holds-barred political ring.
Leef, whose day job is watching over prisoners as assistant superintendent of Whitehorse Correctional Centre, beat the more conventional candidate Gerrard Fleming to take the party’s nomination on March 26.
Fleming, 57, seemed the more likely Conservative party favorite.
He’s a telecoms sales executive with Northwestel, heads the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, belongs to the city’s Rotary Club, is an auxiliary cop and has a resumé lined with other community service credentials.
But Fleming is a relative newcomer to the Yukon. He moved to the Far North from Burlington two years ago, while Leef grew up here, and has been busted, which can boost a Yukon politician’s street cred.
The political rookie has proven a quick study of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s media management strategy.
After agreeing to an interview with the Toronto Star Tuesday, Leef backed out, without explanation.
On his Facebook page, Leef answered the question on many minds: What moved the cage fighter, jailer, former cop, hunting guide, and long-distance runner to try his hand at politics?
His main mission is to “Simplify Politics: to help make sense of issues so that we can all navigate life in plain English terms,” Leef wrote.
“To ensure the process to start an endeavour is not more complicated than the endeavour itself,” he continued. “To be a candidate in whom everyone can see a bit of themselves. I’m a big fan of Red Tape Reduction!”
A lot of Yukoners like their politicians a little rough around the edges.
Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie kept his job despite admitting eight years ago that he spent 17 months in a federal penitentiary after a 1976 conviction for heroin trafficking. Fentie, who leads the conservative Yukon Party, had been pardoned and his criminal record sealed from public scrutiny.
He had copped to a vague history of a narcotics conviction during the 2002 election campaign, but kept his rap sheet for pushing heroin secret until the Yukon News dug up old stories on the drug case from the Edmonton Journal’s morgue.
Doing jail time as drug dealer doesn’t carry the same stigma for a politician on a frontier where a lot of people have run north from something dark in their past.
In Dawson City, Leef’s boyhood hometown on the Klondike River, corrupt politicians just add colour to Wild West lore dating back to the Gold Rush days, when prospectors and prostitutes made this Western Canada’s second largest city.
Folks came to call Mayor Peter Jenkins “Pirate Pete” after he ran a scam to give townsfolk free satellite TV. He registered subscriptions under the names of dead pioneers, such as Tagish Charley and Skookum Jim.
Jenkins was elected to run Dawson, and later rose to become Yukon’s deputy premier, even though he did six months in jail for perjury after his hotel was caught stealing electricity in the 1970s.
Jenkins was Dawson’s mayor for almost 14 years until 1994. Glen Everitt took office in 1996, only to be removed, along with the city council, two years later when the territory’s government appointed a trustee to run Dawson because it was millions of dollars in debt and its books were a mess.
A year ago, Everitt admitted to a breach of public trust, and fraudulently spending $38,300 of taxpayer’s money. He was sentenced to house arrest and given eight years to pay back the cash.
John Steins, an artist who rode the rails here on freight trains from Toronto as a hippy in 1974, led a peaceful insurrection to win back voter control of city government, and when the territory conceded in 2006, Steins won. No one ran against him.
But he didn’t last long. He lost to Pirate Pete Jenkins by just seven votes in October 2009.
“I didn’t have enough street cred,” said Steins, relaxed in his workshop in faded jeans, suspenders and owlish glasses. “I didn’t do time in prison. I’m as pure as the driven snow and that’s actually a liability when it comes to politics around here.”
Ryan’s political pedigree is burnished with at least one known brush with the law.
When Ryan was a conservation officer with the Yukon government in the fall of 2007, he was also an outfitter with Ruby Range Outfitters.
Clients Phil Philips, then host of TV’s Wildlife Point Blank, and another hunter from Ontario, bagged a thinhorn sheep near Kluane Lake, 20 kilometres from their camp.
The prosecution alleged Ryan and his hunting party rode two ATVs back to camp with the dead animal even though wheeled vehicles are banned in the area.
Territorial court Judge Cunliffe Barnett quickly dismissed that charge, insisting it was impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the men drove ATVs instead of hiking 20 kms through the bush with the heavy carcass.
Then the judge turned to a lesser charge that Ryan named the wrong place where the animal was killed when filling out an export form for his Colorado client’s trophy.
But he figured Ryan had made a careless mistake and acquitted him.
“None of us are perfect,” the judge said. “We got rid of the last person who some thought was perfect a couple of thousand years ago.”
Yukon’s Supreme Court wasn’t so obliging. It found Ryan guilty of making a false statement on the export form.