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The NDP rise to power in 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.

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It's been a long night in the Yukon, and not just because of the increasing hours of daylight. The source of the excitement is yesterday's surprising general election. The New Democratic Party upset the governing Tories, capturing half the 16 seats in the legislature. Of those eight seats, four are won by native candidates. As we see in this clip, there's more late-night drama: the tiny village of Old Crow holds the swing vote, but nobody can get its results.
• In the 1985 Yukon general election, the Yukon New Democratic Party captured a minority with eight of the 16 seats at 41.1 per cent of the popular vote. The Progressive Conservatives earned six seats, even though they had 46.9 per cent of the popular vote. The Tories traditionally did well in conservative Whitehorse, while the NDP made gains in rural areas.

• The Yukon Liberal Party, blanked in the previous election, took two seats even though its share of the popular vote fell by 50 per cent.
• All six incumbent NDP candidates were re-elected in 1985, and two new candidates also won.
• With a victory of exactly 50 per cent (eight of 16 seats) it was not clear if the government could be called a majority or minority.

• According to Jo-Ann Waugh of Elections Yukon (who says it was a minority) there was an unsuccessful attempt to recruit the speaker from among the Conservatives. A byelection was held on Feb. 10, 1986, after a Conservative member was killed in an accident, but another Conservative was elected to replace him.
• In late 1986, a Liberal member resigned. On Feb. 2, 1987, Selkirk First Nation chief Danny Joe won a byelection for the NDP, giving it a majority.

• Tony Penikett took over leadership of the Yukon NDP from Fred Berger in 1981. He was federal party president from 1981 to 1985, and acted as an executive assistant to Ed Broadbent. During his first years in office, Penikett negotiated with the federal government over control of natural resources, and reached several land claim agreements with First Nations.

• As leader of the Yukon government, Tony Penikett opposed the Meech Lake accord. He felt the accord would "freeze out" the Yukon and Northwest Territories from ever becoming provinces.

• Old Crow is a village on the banks of Porcupine River in the north of the Yukon. Generally accessible only by aircraft, it is home to just 264 residents (2004). Most residents are from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, which extends across Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Residents rely on the Porcupine caribou herd for meat and hides. In 1985, Old Crow voted NDP, giving the party its victory.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 14, 1985
Guest(s): Norma Kassi, Tony Penikett, Willard Phelps, David Porter
Reporter: Whit Fraser
Duration: 3:08

Last updated: January 20, 2012

Page consulted on July 2, 2014

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