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Yukon's federal candidates debate at CYFN

The four candidates vying for the job of Yukon MP squared off at the Council of Yukon First Nations' election forum last night in Whitehorse. Bill S-6, the long gun registry, and murdered and missing aboriginal women were all debated.

No clear winner at debate, which was mostly polite and reasonable in tone

The Yukon's four federal candidates: Melissa Atkinson (left of table), Ryan Leef, Larry Bagnell, and Frank de Jong, debated topics like the long gun registry and Bill S-6 during the Council of Yukon First Nations' debate Tuesday night. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

There was no clear winner last night as the Yukon's four federal candidates debated at the Council of Yukon First Nations' election forum in Whitehorse.

Candidates were asked to respond to three questions, including how they and their parties would honour treaties and titles. NDP Melissa Atkinson told the crowd of about 200 people that an NDP government would base relations with First Nations on "honour and respect."

Liberal Larry Bagnell said a Liberal government would not approach all First Nations with a "one size fits all" approach, while Green Party candidate Frank de Jong said his party is actually founded on the Mohawk method of governance.

Conservative Ryan Leef said treaties are "living documents" and promised flexibility from a re-elected Conservative government.

S-6 in spotlight

The issue of recent amendments to Yukon's Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act was put to each candidate as well.

The changes, as enacted through Bill S-6, have raised the ire of many Yukon First Nations, three of whom say they are in the midst of planning a lawsuit.

Leef was squarely in the sights on this topic, with de Jong asking him pointedly why there was no consultation beforehand with First Nations.

De Jong also wanted to know why the bill was introduced by Yukon senator Dan Lang, instead of Leef, as Yukon's MP.

Leef told the audience that the amendments don't breach any treaty obligations and added that a Conservative government would hold "trilateral discussions" with First Nations and the Yukon government on the changes.

Bagnell then wondered why Leef thought First Nations would be interested in sitting down to talk about legislation they have strenuously resisted all along.

De Jong said S-6 is a "cowardly betrayal," while Atkinson said an NDP government would immediately repeal it. 

Candidates clash over long gun registry

One audience member asked for clarification on the long gun registry, which was an opening for Leef to remind the audience that the Liberals were in favour of the registry, and that Bagnell, as the sitting MP at the time, voted for it. Leef cautioned the crowd not to trust Bagnell, while Atkinson said the NDP would not bring in a registry.

Bagnell did not defend his past voting record on the issue, but instead reminded the audience that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has "stated categorically" that a registry isn't in the cards.

The issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women also came up, with all the candidates agreeing that it was a national tragedy, and one that needed immediate attention.

Leef said he felt so strongly about it that he broke ranks with his party and was the only Conservative to vote for an inquiry during the last sitting of Parliament.

Atkinson said a Thomas Mulcair government would deliver an inquiry within its first 100 days in office.

While there were a few chippy moments during the two hour debate, it was mostly polite in tone.

As the debate neared its conclusion, an audience member asked Leef about Conservative leader Stephen Harper's recent visit to the Yukon.

The man wanted to know why there were no First Nations leaders visible at the Whitehorse event... "just old stock Canadians," observed the man, which prompted vigorous laughter from the crowd — and nearly all of the candidates.

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