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New Yukon NDP leader wants to 'smash expectations and stereotypes'

Kate White, a 42-year-old former baker who calls herself 'the most unlikely of all politicians,' officially took over as leader at the party's annual gathering on Saturday.

Kate White officially took over as leader at the party's annual general meeting on the weekend

'I'm tired of wasted time, empty promises and token measures,' said Kate White on Saturday, as she officially became leader of the Yukon NDP. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Kate White, a 42-year-old former baker who calls herself "the most unlikely of all politicians," officially took over as leader of Yukon's NDP on the weekend.

White was acclaimed at the party's annual general meeting on Saturday, taking the helm from Liz Hanson who led the party since 2009.

White delivered a passionate, high-energy speech in which she vowed to rejuvenate the party and "smash the expectations and stereotypes of what it means to be a New Democrat." 

She lost no time in reminding the crowd that she's fed up with sitting in the opposition benches.

"I am tired of participating in a system that clearly doesn't work. I'm tired of false majority governments, I'm tired of wasted time, empty promises and token measures," she said.

White also took a poke at those within her party who are skeptical of her approach to politics. 

"I know that there are some who are concerned that I might be too casual, or that I don't look the part. I disagree," she said, to loud laughter and cheers. 

White, seen here standing with former federal NDP leader and Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin, vowed to rejuvenate the party. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

White has her work cut out as leader — the party was reduced from six seats in the legislature to two after the 2016 election, and the party was replaced as the official opposition.

The Yukon's last NDP government was in power from 1996 to 2000, under former premier Piers McDonald. 

White vowed that if elected, a Yukon NDP government would be "transparent and accountable" to Yukoners. She said the party has already stopped taking corporate donations from outside of the territory, and from unions.

"And when we form the next government — 'cause we will — we will make this the law for all political parties, we will ensure that future Yukon governments will be accountable to individual Yukoners above all else."

The party has some rebuilding to do, after being reduced from 6 seats in the legislature to two after the 2016 election. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

White said climate change must be an urgent priority for the territory and said she'll introduce a motion in the fall session of the legislature, calling on Yukon to declare a climate change emergency. 

Tributes to Hanson

The weekend gathering also paid tribute to Hanson. Several of the party's former MLAs who served from 2011 to 2016, when the party formed the official opposition, spoke at the event. 

Lois Moorcroft said under Hanson's leadership, the NDP were an effective opposition.

"We ensured that the Yukon Party [government] was unable to proceed with its goal to bring hydraulic fracturing to the Yukon ... we ensured the respect [for] the sacred waters and the lands, the animals and the people," she said.

In her speech, outgoing leader Liz Hanson said that anybody who has felt ignored or disenfranchised in the current political system would find a welcome in White's NDP. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Former MLA Jan Stick said Hanson was often the smartest MLA in the legislature.

"I loved it when Liz stood up to talk, because no one — no one — in that legislature knew as much and could speak more clearly or eloquently to the issue at hand. It never, ever ceased to amaze me. I would just sit in awe."

White thanked Hanson for being a close friend and mentor, especially when White was a neophyte MLA.

"You've taught me everything that I know to this point. What I've learned through Liz is that people judge women in politics harsher than they judge men."  

In her farewell speech as leader, Hanson told the crowd that under White's leadership, people who have felt ignored or disenfranchised in the current political system would find a welcome.

"Expect them to find their voice, to join Kate in bringing about real change, not simply a change of political colours," Hanson said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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