Dog treats and billboards: First-time candidates learn the political ropes

These Yukoners will see their names on a ballot for the first time, in the territorial election. The campaign has already offered them some surprises.

Yukoners talk about their decision to enter the fray - and what they've learned so far

Jeane Lassen (Liberal candidate, Takhini-Kopper King), Danny Macdonald (Yukon Party candidate, Riverdale South) and Shaunagh Stikeman (NDP candidate, Mountainview) took part in a panel discussion on CBC Yukon's Airplay. Julie Anne Ames (Green candidate, Lake Laberge) participated by phone. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

They all talk about the dogs — and not in a "politics is for the dogs" sort of way. 

"I don't know about you, but 80 per cent of the households have dogs, in my neighbourhood," said Jeane Lassen, the Liberal candidate in Takhini-Kopper King. 

Lassen, along with Yukon Party candidate Danny Macdonald (Riverdale South) and NDP candidate Shaunagh Stikeman (Mountainview), took part in a panel discussion on CBC Yukon's Airplay, about being first-time candidates. Green Party candidate Julie Anne Ames (Lake Laberge) took part by phone.

"I've actually started going out with dog treats in my pocket," said Stikeman, who estimates dog ownership in Mountainview is closer to 95 per cent.

"When I get home, my dog is pretty excited to smell the scent of every other dog in the neighbourhood, on my legs."

'I decided, 'you know what? It's time,' Macdonald said. (CBC)

Macdonald calls dogs the "secondary doorbell" when he's out door-knocking.

"Some of the best encounters at doors are some of the dogs that get really excited," he said.

The first-time candidates are all hoping voters will send them to the Yukon Legislature in the Nov. 7 vote. They've been quickly learning what it takes to make it as a politician in Yukon, besides a supply of dog treats.

Persistence is key, according to Macdonald, who's been knocking on doors for weeks already.

"I was a little bit surprised at how difficult it is to get out there and just connecting with Yukoners, especially during the summer," he said.

Lassen agrees — Yukoners don't seem to spend a lot of time at home. She's been campaigning in her riding since February and says, "I still haven't met everyone.

"I've gone to some people's houses eight or nine times, and I'm like 'well, how many times is it polite to leave a note before you look like you're stalking someone?'"

Entering the fray

Macdonald, Lassen, Stikeman and Ames are of different political stripes, but their decisions to run for office were motivated by the same simple desire to get off the sidelines and become more deeply involved in their community.

It wasn't a huge leap for Macdonald, who's been immersed in politics for years, though behind the scenes. He's been the Yukon Party's government press secretary and says he grew up in a political family that would "gather 'round the TV and watch elections." His mother ran for the Yukon Party in 2000.

He says friends and family have been asking him for years when he'd enter the fray as a candidate.

"Then I decided, 'you know what? It's time'. I'm ready for the challenge and I'm ready to put myself out there, and go to work on it," he said.

"Part of democracy is, you have to have a variety of good options on the ballot for people to make those decisions. And I'm looking forward to going through the election and providing myself as an option."

Lassen said she 'just couldn't listen to [Yukoners'] challenges anymore without getting involved.' (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Lassen, an Olympic weightlifter, who competed in Beijing in 2008, says she was inspired to run after travelling through Yukon, speaking about her experiences as an athlete.

"Whenever I shared my story, and my challenges, people would always come up to me afterwards and share their adversity and it was quite powerful," she said.

"I just couldn't listen to [their] challenges anymore without getting involved. And that's really why I'm doing this. I think I've had a lot of experience with different forms of adversity and they've strengthened me to have the resolve to get up every morning and try to make things better."

Stikeman describes her decision to run as a little more impulsive. She's hoping to unseat Yukon Party leader, and premier, Darrell Pasloski in Mountainview. 

"If you had told me a year ago that I would be here as the NDP candidate, running against the premier in our community, I never would have believed you," she said.

Stikeman is running against Premier Darrell Pasloski in Mountainview. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

She says her decision was fuelled by her disappointment in the government and its approach to the economy, the environment and First Nations relations.

"One spring day, I realized that I didn't have to remain silent anymore — that I could actually speak up and I could stand up for our community and the values that we share."

Green Party candidate Julie Anne Ames wants to provide an alternative to the 'big three' parties. (Submitted by Julie Anne Ames)

Ames has been involved with the federal and territorial Green Parties and decided it was time to take a run as a candidate.

"I just wanted to offer an alternative vote for people who didn't necessarily want to vote for the big three," she said.

'My huge head on a huge billboard'

Despite their resolve, all admitted it was still a big decision to actually put their name on a ballot.

"I was anxious when I was first announcing, actually." Macdonald said. 

He says his work in politics has shown him that MLAs often struggle to balance political obligations with their personal lives. Yukoners expect their candidates to be approachable, anytime, anywhere, "and they're not shy to let you know how they feel."

'You're worried about reception at the door, if people are angry with the government,' Macdonald said. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

He was also aware that running for an incumbent party can be a challenge.

"You're worried about the reception at the door, if people are angry with the government," he said.

Stikeman was also nervous about what an entry into politics might mean for her family. She's married with three young kids, "so you could say I was busy, already."

She says her work as a lawyer has made her used to being the one "behind the scenes."

"Before I announced, I think I was worried about what it would be like to be the one in front — to have my huge head on a huge billboard, to just be completely out there, to be open to all ideas, all conversations, all criticism," she said.

"I have taken it with a huge sense of humour to see my face everywhere!"

Lassen admits that she initially had a hard time with door-knocking, "because you're interrupting people in their homes when they're not expecting someone.

Lassen said she's come to enjoy campaigning door-to-door. 'Everyone is super polite, whether they support your party or not.' (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"At first I had a bit of difficulty with that, but I realize that it's better for me to be uncomfortable in the goal of including  someone, than to exclude them because of my shyness. So I've really gotten to enjoy door-knocking and everyone is super-polite, whether they support your party or not."

Macdonald has had a similar experience, calling Yukoners "invariably polite."

"They recognize that there has to be names on the ballots, and they just appreciate that you're running. So everyone has been really receptive."

Ames said door-knocking has been enjoyable, especially to "hear about what the locals think about this issue or that.

"Of course it's daunting at first to put your name forward as a candidate, but I think once you dive into it and have a positive attitude, it can be a really great experience for growth," she added.

Power of social media

If anything has surprised these campaign-trail neophytes, it's how quickly their names, ideas and images can come to seem almost like public property. They can't always control the message.

Stikeman says the biggest surprise for her, so far, is the power of social media. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"The biggest surprise is the power of social media, and the power of word-of-mouth has blown my mind. When the door opens and people say, 'oh yeah, I know who you are,' and they start to tell me about myself ... they know what my core values are," Stikeman said.

"And this is a complete stranger that I'm meeting for the first time!"

Macdonald has also been taken aback at how quickly people have started to recognize him, almost wherever he goes.

"Even when you're out doing something that's not related to campaigning and you have people who recognize you or they've seen something on social media that you've mentioned, or they've heard your name in the paper — people are coming up and talking to you about that now.

"There are some things that are a little bit different once you're the face of a campaign."

With files from Dave White


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