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Vying to bring power back to the Yukon

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.

Times are tough in the Yukon: mines are closing, and jobs are scarce. And it's even tougher to do anything about it, because control of the territory's economy remains largely in Ottawa. "We are very much wards of the state," says Yukon Progressive Conservative Leader Chris Pearson. It's one reason that Yukoners are taking the 1982 election very seriously. As we see in this clip, for the first time since the Gold Rush, they'll be able to elect local politicians with real power.
• After the Progressive Conservative victory in the 1978 election, the territorial government began pressuring Ottawa for territorial constitutional reforms. Federal Tory leader (and briefly prime minister) Joe Clark had supported the territory's aspirations to become a province, while Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau told territorial leaders that provincial status was unlikely "in my lifetime."

• Significant changes did take place in 1979. In January, Liberal Indian and Northern Affairs minister Hugh Faulkner issued a letter to new Yukon commissioner Ione Christensen, instructing her that she must accept the advice of Yukon ministers on territorial matters.
• When Joe Clark was elected in May 1979, he appointed Jake Epp as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. On June 18, 1979, Tory Yukon government leader Chris Pearson sent Epp a letter asking for more responsible government.

• Among the changes requested by Pearson was that the federally appointed commissioner be removed from the executive committee. Epp agreed. His landmark "Epp letter" to commissioner Christensen instructed her to remove herself from territorial policy making and daily business, and allow the territorial government leader to create his own council or cabinet, just like in the provinces. Christensen, unwilling to become a "quasi lieutenant governor" resigned.
(Source: Constitutional development in the Yukon Territory: perspectives on the "(Jake) Epp letter".)

• The first election under this new system was held in 1982. Chris Pearson's Yukon Progressive Conservative Party was returned to power, capturing 10 of the 16 seats. The Yukon New Democratic Party took six seats, while the Yukon Liberal Party was shut out entirely.
• Talks about the Yukon becoming Canada's 11th province continued, but have never come to fruition, due in large part to the territory's sparse population.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: June 3, 1982
Guest(s): Joe Clark, Chris Pearson, Tony Penikett, Ron Vale
Reporter: Linden MacIntyre
Duration: 13:05

Last updated: January 20, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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