Federal candidates talk poverty at first campaign forum

All but one of the Yukon's candidates shared their goals for fighting poverty this week at the first public forum of the territory's federal election campaign, an event that was heavy in rhetoric and light on content.

All but one of the Yukon’s candidates shared their goals for fighting poverty this week at the first public forum of the territory’s federal election campaign, an event that was heavy in rhetoric and light on content.

The event was hosted by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition on Tuesday evening, and attracted a crowd of about 50 people, including several members of the city’s homeless population. Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell and NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson were present, while Green candidate Frank de Jong phoned in from Dawson City. Conservative incumbent Ryan Leef did not attend.

Affordable housing was a major focus for all three candidates. It’s estimated there are at least 100 homeless people living in Whitehorse, and a recent study found that 13 per cent of renters spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rent.

Bagnell focused on the Liberal Party’s plan to invest nearly $20 billion over 10 years in social infrastructure, including affordable housing.

“You can’t do anything else unless you have housing,” he said.

When asked how much of that money the Yukon would see, Bagnell said he wasn’t sure, but it would likely be more than a proportional amount based on the territory’s population.

For her part, Atkinson touted the NDP’s plan to develop an affordable housing act, and said her party would bring in a tax break to promote construction of 10,000 affordable housing units in Canada in the next 10 years. She also said the NDP would recognize housing as a human right.

“I believe that nobody should be left behind in our communities,” she said.

But de Jong accused Atkinson of speaking in platitudes. “Let’s get down to business,” he said.

He suggested the federal government could set up a system where people could build privately owned housing on government-owned land, meaning they would only have to pay for the housing, not the land. “It would reduce the cost of housing roughly by half, because the land is a very large component in the cost of housing.”

He also said private developers should be required to build a certain number of affordable housing units alongside new market housing.

A number of audience members also wanted to know what the candidates would do to provide jobs and opportunities for young people in the Yukon.

“Our kids have to go to B.C. to go to work. Why is that?” one man asked.

Bagnell said a Liberal government would create 40,000 youth jobs each year for the next three years. He also said the party’s plan to invest $60 billion in infrastructure would create more jobs, including in sustainable development.

Atkinson referred to the NDP plan to create a $15 minimum wage for federal workers, while de Jong focused on cutting taxes to businesses to stimulate the local private-sector economy.

Though this wasn’t a formal debate, the atmosphere in the room was heated at times. More than once, the candidates found themselves confronted viscerally by some of the issues they were trying to address in abstract terms. At one point, one homeless man challenged the candidates to spend a night outside during a Whitehorse winter.

“You never fucking missed a meal in your lives, I bet,” he yelled.

And at end of the evening, not everyone was satisfied with what they’d heard from the candidates.

“I’m looking for the answers to the Yukon. What will we receive? And so no one could answer that question for me tonight,” said Gerard Tremblay. “We need the facts, and that’s what I’m looking for. I didn’t really feel like they were precise enough.”

Contact Maura Forrest at


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

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

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

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read