What does the NDP need to gain power once again?

The party will need to do some soul searching before we head to the polls again

In my Dec. 20, 2017 column I speculated about how a future return to power for the Yukon Party’s might unfold. Now it’s time to ponder what the future holds for the Yukon NDP — which was reduced from official opposition to just two MLAs in the 2016 territorial election.

Elizabeth Hanson continues to lead the party but after more than eight years at the helm and two election campaigns there is speculation about her future as leader.

The current era is an anomalous one in the Yukon’s short history of partisan electoral politics. Before Sandy Silver’s Yukon Liberals came to power in 2016 the party had enjoyed just one short term in office and has traditionally been the smallest party in the legislature. In the elections of 1982 and 1989 the party was wiped out completely.

Not only have the Liberals rarely governed, they have not played the role of official opposition very often either. They were the second largest party just twice — between 1978 and 1982 under the leadership of Iain MacKay and between 1996 and 2011 under Arthur Mitchell.

Yukon politics has of course been dominated by the Yukon Party with the NDP playing second chair. The NDP has occasionally governed — between 1985 and 1992 under the leadership of Tony Penikett and again (after a brief hiatus) in 1996 and 2000 under Piers McDonald.

But those days are becoming faded memories. So what does the NDP need to gain power once again? After being passed over in the last election in favour of the Liberals as an alternative to a tired Yukon Party government, the party will need to do some soul searching before we head to the polls again.

Despite a strong desire for change, the party lost 226 votes compared to its 2011 showing. There were only a handful of ridings where the party was a close second.

It wasn’t for a lack of substantive policy and ideas.

The Yukon NDP, despite being shut out of government for nearly two decades, to its credit has been a strong voice for social democratic and environmental causes in the territory. It deserves some credit, for example, for nagging the previous Yukon Party government until it introduced the more tenant-friendly Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

During the 2016 campaign it made a spirited pitch that was strong on environmental issues including fracking and the Peel watershed; and (agree or not) made a substantial increase to the minimum wage a centre-piece of its platform. (As an aside, it is regrettable that we didn’t have enough of a debate over that particular plank during the short campaign.)

The fundamental problem the NDP in the Yukon faces, I think, is that our high transfer payments mean more conservative parties have not had to ignore the territory’s social needs in the way that jurisdictions which actually have to make tough choices between taxes and spending do.

The previous Yukon Party government invested heavily in the kind of social infrastructure that might typically be associated with social democrats. We have two new hospitals, a new homeless shelter, a new emergency room, a new building for alcohol and drug services, and a new continuing care facility on its way.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have our issues — a lack of affordable housing being the most acute — but they aren’t ignored by other parties in the way that they often are elsewhere. The Yukon Party also maintained a state of relative peace with its public-sector unions thus mollifying a certain constituency that might find a natural home with the NDP.

I wrote previously that the Yukon Party will find its route back to power in the choices the government makes in addressing the fiscal crunch we find ourselves in.

It is plausible that the government’s decision-making on budgets (or the environment for that matter) will kill off some of the voter enthusiasm that drove its 80 per cent surge in support in 2016. And, such a decline in voter turnout would indirectly benefit the NDP.

But could it also contribute to any sort of surge in NDP support? I think the Liberal Party’s handling of these issues present fewer openings for the NDP than the Yukon Party. People just don’t look to the parties of the left for balanced budgets or anti-tax populism and I have doubts that we will see any sort of deep spending cuts or hard restraint that will hurt the poor and lower middle class in a way that drives voters into the arms of the NDP.

If the Yukon Party’s road to power is the South Canol, the NDP’s is the north. I think it will take a confluence of certain factors — including a new sense of energy and enthusiasm within the party, some serious errors on the part of the government, and probably poor choice in new leadership on the part of the Yukon Party as well. Running on the issues hasn’t seemed to be enough in recent years.

But if the NDP can get itself elected in Alberta it can certainly happen here. It is just a question of how to get it done.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill holds up a signed copy of the KDFN <em>Lands Act</em> agreement during an announcement at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 20. Under the new act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Lands Act comes into force

The act gives the First Nation the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands

Two doctors in Watson Lake say they are at risk of losing their housing due to a Yukon Housing Corporation policy that only allows one pet per family. (Wikimedia Commons)
Healthcare workers in Watson Lake say housing pet policy could force them to leave

The Yukon Housing Corporation has threatened evictions for having more than one pet

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Most Read