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Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says he won't seek re-election, calls for leadership vote

WHITEHORSE — Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has announced he will not seek another term as MLA for Klondike, and has asked the Yukon Liberal Party to initiate proceedings to select a new leader.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver speaks in the Yukon Government Legislature foyer in Whitehorse, Monday, May 3, 2021. Silver says he will not seek another term as MLA for Klondike, and has asked the Yukon Liberal Party to initiate proceedings to select a new leader.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Kelly

WHITEHORSE — Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has announced he will not seek another term as MLA for Klondike, and has asked the Yukon Liberal Party to initiate proceedings to select a new leader.

Silver said at a press conference on Friday he would continue to serve as a member of the legislature until the end of his term, with the next election not due until Nov. 3, 2025. 

Silver and the Liberals said he would serve as premier until the new leader is selected. 

"It has been a profound honour to serve as the premier of Yukon," Silver told reporters during the press conference at the cabinet office in Whitehorse.

Silver, who is the longest-serving current premier in Canada, was first elected to the Yukon legislative assembly in October 2011 and has been the leader of the party since August 2012. 

He first became premier after the Yukon Liberals won a majority government in the 2016 territorial election, ousting the Yukon Party for the first time in 14 years. Now serving his third term as premier, he is the first Klondike MLA to serve as Yukon's premier. 

Silver said when his latest government was formed, it had "inherited" an infrastructure deficit, housing shortage, inadequate health-care system and an “outdated education system,” and faced a global pandemic. 

He praised the work of the Liberal party over the past six years, saying they had made improvements in the territory.

“We did what people said was impossible and we did it with precision,” he said in a tribute to the Yukon Liberals and what he called "the small team of Klondike Liberals in Dawson."

Silver appeared to choke up as he thanked Yukoners and particularly residents of Dawson City for the "privilege of leading the territory."

"Representing the good people of Dawson City, that’s been the most humbling experience and absolutely the best job of my life," he said, adding he looks forward to spending more time in the community and reconnecting with people there once his term ends. 

Silver said "fresh energy and bold ideas" were needed to continue to move the territory forward.

The Yukon Liberal Party said in a statement that Silver worked "tirelessly with his Liberal colleagues to make the Yukon a better place to live" and "left an indelible mark on governance in the territory" by fostering government-to-government relationships with Yukon First Nations. 

"Today we pause to reflect on the important and significant work Sandy Silver has done for his constituents in the Klondike, for all Yukoners as the Premier, and for Yukon Liberals as the party leader," party spokesperson Paolo Gallina said. 

Silver signed a confidence and supply agreement with the New Democrats after his Liberal party failed to win a majority government in the territorial election in April last year. 

It came after Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost tied in the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin with the New Democrat candidate.

A judge later declared NDP candidate Annie Blake the winner after drawing lots to break the tie. 

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White thanked Silver for his service as premier in a statement on Friday. She said she enjoyed working with him through the NDP-Liberal agreement on matters like increasing the territory's minimum wage and opening a supervised consumption site in Whitehorse.

"I wish him all the best for the next chapter of his life," White said.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon also thanked Silver for his service as premier "during some of the most difficult times," but said in a statement that the Klondike MLA leaves a "very mixed legacy" as leader of the Yukon Liberals. 

The Opposition leader criticized Silver for not setting out rules for sitting ministers who plan to run for party leadership.

Dixon also criticized Silver for refusing to remove Tracy-Anne McPhee as a member of his cabinet last year over her handling of a sexual abuse case at a school in Whitehorse when she was the minister of education. 

McPhee is now deputy premier, minister of justice and minister of health and social services.

"When the legislature returns for the fall sitting, the official Opposition will have to question a lame-duck premier and ministers that are actively running for leadership," Dixon said. "This is untenable for conducting the business of the Yukon legislative assembly."

Silver is originally from Antigonish, N.S., but has lived in Dawson City since 1998.

He led the mathematics department at Robert Service School in Dawson City before being elected.

He’s also a musician, has played in several Yukon bands and has served as the president of the Dawson City Music Festival.

This report by The Canadian Press was first reported Sept. 9, 2022. 

— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press