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Yukon party politics

Running for office is hard work anywhere, but campaigning in the Yukon may be hardest of all. The territory's tiny population is spread over a vast area, and the campaign trail leading to the voters is sometimes 60 below. The voters can be as unforgiving as the climate, with wildly divergent interests and fickle party allegiances. From the introduction of political parties in 1978 to responsible government and stumping by computer, CBC Archives looks at elections in the land of the midnight sun.

Until 1978, elections in the Yukon have been almost meaningless. Since 1897, the territory has been led by a federally appointed commissioner. There are elections for the territorial council, but councillors have always been mere advisers. But things are changing fast. The council is expanding, and the Yukon is now in charge of running its own elections. And for the first time, elections are run along party lines, with candidates from the three major political parties.

The new voting model is much more consistent with that of Canada's provinces. What's more, federal Tory leader Joe Clark has promised that if he gets elected, Yukoners will have the right to decide if they want to become a province. As we see in this clip from The National, many Yukoners believe this election is the beginning of a new era.
• The Yukon Territory was established in 1898 by the Yukon Act. Like the neighbouring Northwest Territories, it was governed by a federally appointed commissioner under the Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The commissioner appointed an executive committee (like a provincial cabinet).
• Beginning in 1900, elections were held for members of the territorial council, which acts as adviser to the executive committee. But the commissioner held the power, and could veto council legislation.

• In the 1900 election, only two of the eight members were elected. It became wholly elected in 1908, but at times the council has had as few as three members. The first woman was not elected until 1967, and the first native members were elected in 1978.
• Beginning in 1970, under Indian affairs minister Jean Chrétien, elected members were added to the executive committee and appointees were dropped. Each territorial constitutional change came about as a result of a letter of instruction from the minister to the commissioner.

• In 1978, there were only 23,000 people living in the Yukon, and only 9,750 eligible voters (up just 208 people from the 1974 election.) Because of the great distance many voters would have to travel to reach the polls, Yukon voters could use a proxy system to delegate their vote to someone else.

• Native people make up about 22 per cent of the Yukon's population. In 2001 there were 6,545 registered native people in 16 bands. Self-government agreements were reached with many of the bands in the 1990s.

• In 1978, the handling of elections in the Yukon was passed to the territorial government, instead of Canada's chief electoral officer. It was also the year that candidates became affiliated with political parties. Until then they ran independently, though they may have been active in a political party. The result was a party-based government with a leader that acted like the premiers of Canada's provinces. Northwest Territories elections and Nunavut elections continue to be run without political parties.

• In the 1978 Yukon Territorial Council election, the Progressive Conservatives captured 11 of the 16 seats in the legislative assembly. But Tory leader Hilda Watson, a former teacher who had vocally opposed native land claims, failed to win her riding, losing to Liberal Alice McGuire -- one of the first two native people to be elected to the council. (Fred Berger, the NDP leader, was also defeated.) Watson resigned, and Conservative Chris Pearson became leader of the government.

• The Yukon is represented at the federal level by one member of Parliament and one senator. The Yukon riding is the territory's single electoral district. Elections are typically very close three-way races, with an edge given to popular incumbents like Erik Nielsen and Audrey McLaughlin. All three parties have won the riding, though Conservatives have dominated. Since the 1950s, no candidate has captured more than half of the popular vote.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 22, 1978
Guest(s): Erik Nielsen, Hilda Watson
Reporter: Colin Hoath
Duration: 2:23

Last updated: September 18, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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