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Erin Labonte first to vie for NDP candidacy in Watson Lake

Erin Labonte, a born-and-raised Watson Lake resident, wants to run for the NDP in the upcoming territorial election.

Erin Labonte, a born-and-raised Watson Lake resident, wants to run for the NDP in the upcoming territorial election.

On Tuesday afternoon she announced she’s seeking the NDP nomination for her home riding.

Labonte, who works in Watson lake, said the time to step up has come.

“You can only change things from the inside,” she told the News Tuesday.

“I’ve been advocating for change in our community since I moved back four years ago,” she added, but going into politics is the most effective way to create change.

She said it took her a while to decide to run, after being offered the opportunity.

Labonte has been involved with fundraising for cystic fibrosis research for the past 10 years in the community.

She started when her nephew was first diagnosed. She estimates the community of Watson Lake alone raised $50,000 of the $100,000 raised in the territory for research.

As it stands, the community is hardest hit by falling commodity prices because it doesn’t have much going in terms of tourism, unlike other communities such as Carcross, she said.

She emphasized the need to to diversify the territory’s economy.

She doesn’t have a problem with mining and mineral exploration — just the territory’s over-reliance on it.

“We need something so that we can stand on our own two feet,” she said.

The community itself is economically “depressed,” losing businesses and residents, she said.

“We’re in a place where we don’t have many restaurants, many bars.”

Labonte also says the community needs serious investment in mental health support.

“It’s an issue that faces all of the Yukon, but it’s more apparent (in Watson Lake) because of the small population,” she said.

Labonte said the community also needs more support for mental health issues, be it for addiction or for people suffering from past abuse.

“Abuse happened to an entire generation of people,” she said. “I can never understand because it never happened to me, but I can empathize.”

In the community of about 1,400 people, long-time residents all know each other, and Labonte has known sitting Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod for a long time.

Her issue isn’t with McLeod’s work in the community, but with her stance on fracking.

“I don’t think that Patti did a bad job,” she said. “I just don’t share the same vision for the community as she does.”

Labonte worked in Fort Nelson, B.C. and said she witnessed first-hand what fracking and the oil-and-gas industry does to the environment.

“(It’s) the thousands of kilometres of roads that have to be cut out of the wilderness,” she said.

Labonte sees it as an easy choice for Whitehorse residents in favour of fracking: they don’t have to see it.

Watson Lake is near the Liard Basin, the second-largest shale gas deposit in Canada. The Yukon Party has come out in favour of fracking in the Liard Basin.

There is no current active natural gas production in the territory.

Labonte would also like to strengthen the relationship between members of the Liard First Nation and the Yukon government.

“There is a level of distrust on both sides,” she said, adding it should be more than “shaking hands in photo ops.”

Ernie Jamieson is the Liberal Party’s candidate for the riding, while McLeod is running for re-election. The Yukon Party has held the riding since 2002.

-with files from Maura Forrest

Contact Pierre Chauvin at