Next territorial election’s outcome is anybody’s guess

Since being elected in the fall of 2002, the Yukon Party has now been in office for 12 years and 18 days.

Since being elected in the fall of 2002, the Yukon Party has now been in office for 12 years and 18 days. It is now the longest-serving government in Yukon history, which is an impressive feat, even although elected government in the territory is only 35 years old.

Barring an unexpected snap election, by the time we next go to the polls the Fentie-Pasloski government will have lasted longer than the Chretien-Martin Liberals did at the federal level.

And the Yukon Party could very well win again.

I expected that it would be either defeated or reduced to a minority in the last two elections and was wrong both times. This time I will refrain from making any predictions.

For all we know we could be sitting here in 2045 looking back at a reign that outlasted what is now the Lougheed-Getty-Klein-Stelmach-Redford-Prentice era (and counting) in Alberta.

Or maybe the Yukon Party is in its dying days and the next election will usher in a new era of progressive governance in the territory. Perhaps Yukoners are growing tired of court battles and status quo government.

It has happened before.

Before this current era of relative stability, the Yukon went through a phase where it booted out the incumbent in every election. In the 12 years preceding the election of the Fentie-led Yukon Party in 2002, Yukoners were led by the NDP, then the Yukon Party, then the NDP again, and then the Liberals. Maybe Yukoners have had enough of the same-old same-old.

I often hear people confidently predict the outcome of the next election. How do you know? You don’t really.

Unlike in federal politics, we know very little about the voting intentions of Yukoners or what issues drive them. At the federal level there are countless polls that give us a regular glimpse (however imperfectly) into the minds of voters. We have a pretty good idea how they feel about the leaders, what issues they feel are important and how they feel about the direction of the country.

In the Yukon we have little of that.

We have some limited polling data but, as is always the case when sampling a small population like the Yukon, it comes with a large statistical margin of error. If a poll says that two parties are neck-and-neck but the poll has a margin of error of five per cent, one party could be ahead of the other by as much as 10 per cent.

These margins make a big difference when it comes to victory or defeat, majority or minority. On the eve of the last election, a poll conducted by Datapath Systems had the NDP and Yukon Party tied at 35 per cent. The Yukon Party went on to win a majority government and beat the NDP 40 per cent to 33 per cent. With a 5.1 per cent margin of error, the pollsters could claim to have “nailed it” and be technically correct.

Predicting matters at a riding level – which is what really counts after all – is even more challenging. When the Yukon Electoral Boundaries Commission determined the current distribution of ridings in 2008, the average number of voters in each riding (excluding the small riding of Vuntut Gwitchin) was only 1,147. Take a few votes from one riding and sprinkle them around some others and the outcome of the elections can change completely.

During elections, partisan insiders know a lot more than the rest of society, as they have access to databases of canvassing data. When politicians come to your door they aren’t really there to change your mind. Yes, they hope to sway a few voters along the way, but the main goal is to find out who you are supporting, so they can enter it into a computer and (if you’re intending to vote for them) make sure you show up on election day. Save for the handful of voters who keep their cards close to their chest (or lie) the parties have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.

But the messaging from the campaigns is so carefully scripted that one really can’t tell truth from spin (hint: it is all spin).

The rest of society is left to rely on its anecdotal sense of the “public mood,” which is tainted by a number of biases. Counting letters to the editor, comments on social media, or attendance at protests only really tells us about what the views of those who engage in those activities.

Our assessment of the public mood is distorted by what psychologists call the “false consensus effect” – our tendency to assume that the broader public believes what our peer group believes.

If your friends all have “Save the Peel” bumper stickers, you likely believe that the Yukon Party is in for a rough ride in the next election due to their recent loss in the Yukon Supreme Court over the botched land-use planning process and other environmental issues.

Alternatively, if you socialize with members of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, there is a good chance that you think the Yukon Party will cruise to victory because it’s the only one looking out for the “backbone” of the territory’s economy.

As someone who follows politics pretty closely I’m often asked who will win the next election. Please stop. I don’t know and neither do you. We’re just going to have to wait and find out.

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

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley gives a COVID-19 update during a press conference in Whitehorse on May 26. The Yukon government announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the territory with a press release on Oct. 19. (Alistair Maitland Photography)
Two new cases of COVID-19 announced in Yukon

Contact tracing is complete and YG says there is no increased risk to the public

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on April 8. Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Energy faced ‘critical’ fuel shortage last January due to avalanche

An email obtained by the Yukon Party showed energy officials were concerned

Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys), the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. “Our government is proud to be supporting Yukon’s grassroots organizations and First Nation governments in this critical work,” said McLean of the $175,000 from the Yukon government awarded to four community-based projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government gives $175k to projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women

Four projects were supported via the Prevention of Violence against Aboriginal Women Fund

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

When I was a kid, CP Air had a monopoly on flights… Continue reading

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

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting instead of 30 days to make up for lost time caused by COVID-19 in the spring. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Legislative assembly sitting extended

Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting. The extension… Continue reading

Today’s mailbox: Mad about MAD

Letters to the editor published Oct. 16, 2020

Alkan Air hangar in Whitehorse. Alkan Air has filed its response to a lawsuit over a 2019 plane crash that killed a Vancouver geologist on board, denying that there was any negligence on its part or the pilot’s. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Alkan Air responds to lawsuit over 2019 crash denying negligence, liability

Airline filed statement of defence Oct. 7 to lawsuit by spouse of geologist killed in crash

Whitehorse city council members voted Oct. 13 to decline an increase to their base salaries that was set to be made on Jan. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council declines increased wages for 2021

Members will not have wages adjusted for CPI

A vehicle is seen along Mount Sima Road in Whitehorse on May 12. At its Oct. 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the third reading for two separate bylaws that will allow the land sale and transfer agreements of city-owned land — a 127-square-metre piece next to 75 Ortona Ave. and 1.02 hectares of property behind three lots on Mount Sima Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse properties could soon expand

Land sale agreements approved by council

Most Read