Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says he's stepping down to reconnect with community

·4 min read

YELLOWKNIFE — Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says he's ready to be known as just Sandy again.

Silver announced plans to step down as leader of the Yukon Liberal Party on Friday at a hastily convened news conference in Whitehorse.

He said a major influence in his decision was his attendance this summer at a graduation ceremony at Robert Service School in Dawson City, where he once led the mathematics department.

He only recognized about 20 per cent of families, Silver said.

"That was a really profound moment for me about how I'm not as connected to my best friends' kids in the community, watching them grow up in Dawson."

Silver said after serving nearly six years as Yukon's premier, it's time for him to leave territorial politics and reconnect with the community he fell in love with more than two decades ago.

"It's one thing to be the premier and reconnect, but it's another thing to reconnect as Sandy, you know, the guy who used to play drums at The Pit," he said, referring to the bar at the Westminster Hotel in Dawson City.

The premier, who has represented the Klondike riding since October 2011 and has led the Yukon Liberals since August 2012, said in an interview it's not a decision he made lightly.

He plans to hold onto the Klondike seat until the next election, set for Nov. 3, 2025, and will continue to serve as premier until the Yukon Liberals select a new leader.

He said he wanted to announce his plans to leave territorial politics as soon as possible to give the next Liberal leader enough time to "become a more household name" before the next election.

Silver noted the Liberals' confidence and supply agreement with the New Democrats, which he signed after his party failed to win a majority government in the April 2021 territorial election, ends on Jan. 31, 2023.

Silver, who was born in Antigonish, N.S., moved to Yukon with a friend in the summer of 1996 and worked in Whitehorse as a teacher for two years before moving further north to Dawson City.

Alongside teaching math, he also coached sports, volunteered with organizations including the fire department, was president of the Dawson City Music Festival and played with several bands.

Silver on Monday described serving as MLA for the community he has called home for the past 24 years as the best job he's ever had, followed by teaching at its school.

He said he decided to enter politics after noticing double standards in education and health care in the territory. His friend Ranj Pillai, who is now Yukon's minister of Economic Development, and Tourism and Culture, asked him what he planned to do about it.

"I really felt I had an obligation to give back to the community that gave me so much," Silver said.

"The Yukon has given me everything I have. I came up here with nothing."

During his first term in office, Silver held the sole Liberal seat in the Yukon legislature after Darius Elias stepped down as interim party leader to sit as an independent MLA in August 2012.

Former Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell failed to regain his seat in the 2011 Yukon election and resigned on election night.

Silver went on to see his party win a majority government in the 2016 territorial election, ousting the Yukon Party for the first time in 14 years and making him the territory's ninth premier and the first to represent the Klondike.

He credits his government with improving Yukon's gross domestic product, reducing unemployment, growing the population, and improving relationships with Yukon First Nations.

"We've done a lot of good work," he said. "We have so much more to do."

Silver said the next premier needs to be able to "speak ferociously" for their riding while balancing the needs of other Yukon communities and be willing to work with others.

As for what he plans to do once his time in office ends, Silver said "the way to piss off the gods is to make plans."

"I'm in the here and now right now. I have no plans past this job other than my partner and I will probably take a few months off just to kind of decompress."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.

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

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press