Dippers drum up support

Yukon's New Democrats hope to turn their party's federal surge into victory during the upcoming territorial election.

Yukon’s New Democrats hope to turn their party’s federal surge into victory during the upcoming territorial election.

Leader Liz Hanson addressed about 35 party faithful during Saturday’s annual convention—not an overwhelming turnout, but far better than just one year ago, when the gathering was small enough for members to sit in a circle facing one another.

The party’s membership base has swollen since Hanson became leader in the autumn of 2009. Then, they had 65 members. Now, they have 319.

That’s in large part thanks to people like Carol Ann Gingras, whom Hanson praised for her hard work enlisting new members.

Two years ago, Gingras had never joined a political party. But she soon came to trust Hanson, 60, who lacks razzle-dazzle but possesses quiet credibility.

“When she says, ‘I want to hear what you have to say,’ she really means it,” said Gingras.

And Hanson’s persistent. She banged on enough doors during the Whitehorse Centre byelection to win more than half the votes, earning her the nickname of Landslide Liz.

Since winning her seat, Hanson has become a fixture at community events around the territory, which may help explain the party’s rebound in popularity, seen in a DataPath poll released in late April.

It put the ruling Yukon Party and NDP neck-and-neck, with both enjoying close to one-third of the vote, while the opposition Liberals lagged behind, with 25 per cent.

Members met at the Yukon francophone association’s building, as a subtle nod to the NDP’s landslide success in Quebec during this month’s federal election. Election signs hung on the wall served as a reminder of the NDP’s past reign in the territory. Hopes were high for a return to dominance.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson rallied her troops in preparation for a territorial election, which must be triggered by the autumn. Given that the Yukon Party is in the midst of a leadership race, it seems unlikely that an election would be called any earlier.

“We’re in an election campaign,” she said. “Make no mistake about it.”

Hanson warned that a new Yukon Party leader will be cut from the same cloth as Premier Dennis Fentie. “We’ve fallen into the trap of talking about the Fentie government,” she said. “Don’t be fooled by a kinder, gentler face.”

Sooner or later, “you can expect the ugly truth to come out.”

Hanson also objected to how the debate over the fate of the Peel Watershed has been framed as a trade-off between preserving the environment and keeping the economy firing at all cylinders.

“It’s false. It’s wrong.”

The New Democrats want to review Yukon’s free-entry method of staking mineral claims, which has resulted in the Slinky placer mine opening near Dawson City’s Dome Road subdivision.

Hanson spoke to one family residing there that could see heavy machinery “literally, in their back yard.”

The NDP also wants to revisit the Yukon’s practice of charging mere pennies in royalties on every ounce of gold that’s mined.

The revelation that Premier Dennis Fentie has sat on $17.5 million in affordable housing money – allegedly to bolster the territory’s savings account – shocked Hanson.

Not spending that money, while Whitehorse is in the midst of an acute housing shortage, “is a crime,” she said. “It really is.”

New Democrats support the Northern City Housing Coalition’s proposal to build supervised dwellings for Whitehorse’s hardcore alcoholics. The Yukon Party’s failure to help those in need means “we’re going to go through another winter with people on the street,” said Hanson.

New Democrats would rejig how the territory develops new lots, to ensure land is sold at cost, rather than at the government’s questionable notion of fair market value.

Currently, Whitehorse businesses are unable to recruit workers, “because there’s no place to live,” said Hanson. Meanwhile, young couples “can’t begin to think about buying a house in this market.”

The current lot shortage is a slow-burning problem created from a decade of dithering on the part of municipal and federal governments. Hanson treated this shortsightness with sarcasm: “Gee, might we want to have land available?”

Hanson praised the attendance of a half-dozen twenty-somethings at the annual convention. Young people are key to the health of a political party.

Hanson’s speech was preceded by a squabble over whether the Yukon NDP should lift their current ban on members belonging to another federal party. In the end, the proposal was shot down.

The following day, former NDP MP Audrey McLaughlin led approximately eight would-be candidates through a crash-course on how to become a candidate in the upcoming territorial election.

No new candidates have been announced since Lois Moorcroft, a former NDP Justice minister, declared her plans to run last week. Among the possible contenders is Kevin Barr, the NDP’s candidate in the recent federal election, who is now considering entering territorial politics.

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