First Nation lawyer seeks NDP nomination

Melissa Atkinson wants to represent the NDP in the next federal election. The First Nation lawyer was the Yukon's first aboriginal Crown prosecutor.

Melissa Atkinson wants to represent the NDP in the next federal election.

The First Nation lawyer was the Yukon’s first aboriginal Crown prosecutor. Born and raised in Whitehorse, Atkinson is a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

During her candidacy announcement on Tuesday, Atkinson laid out some of her top concerns if she were to represent the Yukon in the House of Commons.

She cited Bill S-6, currently before Parliament, which would amend the Yukon’s environment and socio-economic assessment process.

“It (would) bring further uncertainty and harm to Yukon’s economy,” she said, adding it would dismantle a regulation custom-made for the Yukon.

She also cited Bill C-51, the Harper’s government anti-terrorism bill currently awaiting second reading in the Senate.

“There are some new necessary provisions, but the threats to free speech and civil liberties are truly ugly,” she said.

Atkinson appeared with some friends, family and NDP members at her side during her announcement.

It’s been an intense start for Atkinson, who only received confirmation she could run for the NDP nomination last Thursday.

“I’ve been a member of the NDP for the past month, because it’s been difficult for me in the past to consider being political,” she said.

Atkinson, who has been practising criminal law for the past 15 years, is now a legal aid defence lawyer.

She underlined her community involvement with Blood Ties, a support centre for people dealing with HIV and hepatitis C, as well as her experience working with social workers. She also mentioned her role as the former chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

During the last federal election Conservative candidate Ryan Leef won the Yukon riding over Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell by fewer than 200 votes. Both plan to run again in the fall election.

“I need to get my face out there so Yukoners know they have a choice,” said Atkinson when asked about the fact some NDP supporters may decide to vote Liberal to avoid vote-splitting.

In 2008, Bagnell won by a little less than 2,000 votes against then-pharmacist Darrell Pasloski.

An NDP candidate was last elected here in 1997, when Louise Hardy received 28.9 per cent of the vote.

Atkinson says she has the support of Audrey McLaughlin, who served as Yukon’s NDP MP for three terms from 1987 to 1997 and served as the federal NDP’s leader for much of that time.

“Historical things have happened in our country recently,” said Atkinson, referring to the surprise election of an NDP government in Alberta last month.

But before Atkinson can face Leef and Bagnell, she will be facing another NDP nominee: Victor Kisoun. The Yukoner announced his candidacy at the end of last year. The federal NDP’s district association hasn’t yet decided when its members will pick a candidate.

The next federal election will be held on October 19, 2015.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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