Ranj Pillai, acclaimed as Yukon Liberal leader, becomes premier this weekend

Ranj Pillai, seen here in November announcing his run for the leadership of the Yukon Liberal party, will be sworn in as the territory's 10th premier on Saturday. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)
Ranj Pillai, seen here in November announcing his run for the leadership of the Yukon Liberal party, will be sworn in as the territory's 10th premier on Saturday. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)

A sleepy leadership contest ended quickly over the weekend, with Liberal cabinet minister Ranj Pillai taking over the helm of the Yukon Liberal Party by acclamation.

Pillai, a key cabinet minister and deputy premier in Sandy Silver's government, ran unopposed. He'll be sworn in as the territory's 10th premier this weekend.

Party spokesperson Paolo Gallina said nominations for the leadership closed Saturday evening. The party's executive adopted a motion confirming the results Sunday. The party revealed the results late Sunday.

Pillai wasn't immediately available for an interview. But in a statement, he said he's "honoured and humbled" to take over the party leadership.

"We have so much to be proud of and I'm very excited for what the future of the Yukon holds," the statement reads. "I am committed to working hard, seeking common ground, acting strategically and to fiercely defending the interests of the Yukon."

Pillai was first elected MLA for Porter Creek South in 2016, when Silver led the Liberals from third-party status to majority government. Before that, he was Whitehorse city councillor.

He's served in Silver's cabinet as minister of energy, mines and resources, and economic development. He's also been deputy premier.

The Yukon government's executive council office said on Monday that Pillai and his cabinet will be sworn in this Saturday afternoon in a public ceremony in the foyer of the Jim Smith Building.

Pillai takes over a Liberal Party that was hobbled in the last territorial election. Silver took the party from a majority government to a tie with the opposition Yukon Party, with each party finishing with eight seats.

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

The Liberals held on to power through a confidence and supply agreement with the NDP. That deal expires at the end of this month and it's not yet clear whether it will be renewed. The Yukon Party, meanwhile, has been agitating for an election.

Under the territory's fixed election legislation, another vote isn't scheduled until 2025, but that would change if the government collapses.

Floyd McCormick, the former clerk of the Legislative Assembly, said there isn't a set playbook for Pillai to use once he takes over power.

"Once Mr. Pillai becomes leader of the party then there will be a transition to him being the premier but other aspects of this are not defined by rules," he said. "They're defined by decisions that individual politicians are going to have to make."

In his statement, Pillai said he'll outline his plans as premier after he's sworn in. He's also scheduled to speak to the Liberal Party's policy convention Jan. 28 in Whitehorse.