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Getting to know the candidates in Riverdale South

A teacher and a school council chair are up against the Liberal incumbent
From right to left: Yukon Party candidate Cynthia Lyslo, NDP candidate Jason Cook and Liberal incumbent Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Submitted)

Riverdale South is walking distance from downtown but has an extended backyard of lakes, trails and the backdrop of Grey Mountain. Combined with the neighbouring Riverdale North, it has an active community association, many young families, six of Whitehorse’s schools and — historically — some unpredictable voters.

The riding extends from the east side of the Yukon River, splitting the subdivision of Riverdale in half. The northern boundary ends just below Selkirk Elementary School along Selkirk Street and Lewes Boulevard.

In 2016 the riding had 1,442 electors and 78 per cent of them came out to vote.

In the last election NDP MLA Jan Stick was ousted by Liberal Tracy-Anne McPhee, who won by just 37 votes. Historically, the riding has voted for all three parties since 1996, when fiery Yukon Progressive Conservative Party MLA Bea Firth stepped away from a decade of representing the riding.

Riverdale South’s boundaries also include the Super A grocery store, Heart of Riverdale, Riverdale Neighbourhood Pub and Northern Lights bowling, in addition to Christ the King Elementary, Grey Mountain Primary and Vanier Catholic Secondary.

All three candidates in Riverdale South have an education background in an election year when the education file has been front and centre.

Three candidates are running in the 2021 election. They have been profiled in alphabetical order.

Cynthia Lyslo - Yukon Party

In her first days of campaigning, Cynthia Lyslo said her doorstep conversations have not just been with parents. It’s also students coming to the door who want to talk about their concerns after a tumultuous year.

“It’s not necessarily unique to the riding, but there are a lot of parents that are obviously concerned about what happens in that area, because their schools are there,” she said. “Our economy will recover in time [from the pandemic]. But, you know, parents are concerned about the long term impacts on our kids.”

Lyslo has a long history in Riverdale. She graduated from F.H. Collins, and is current chair of the Vanier Catholic school council and has supported her three children through the territory’s education system.

As a senior public servant with an MBA in executive leadership, Lyslo said she is very familiar with the inner systems of government — and she said better clarity and more information is needed to support the private sector.

Lyslo said she was encouraged by her children to run in the 2021 campaign. She’s used to “rolling up her sleeves” and working in the background, but felt it was time to step forward.

In the Yukon Party, she said she sees a team looking for “solutions that work for Yukoners.”

“I think it’s important that people have the information to make decisions that are right for themselves versus government,” she said. “The Yukon Party today is not the Yukon Party I remember from the past. I see that especially under Currie, it’s a party that welcomes all perspectives. And I really appreciate that.”

Jason Cook - Yukon New Democratic Party

Candidate Jason Cook is running to protect the kind of community spirit he hasn’t always found in other places.

“I love the community, I love the people in it, they’ve been so kind to me. I think that sense of community is slipping away down south, in other parts of the world, so we have to protect it. If the pandemic showed us anything, is that the status quo isn’t working,” he said.

Cook is an educational assistant at Porter Creek Secondary School, where he launched the Rainbow Room Program to support queer youth. He has a degree specializing in International and Indigenous education and has also served as an executive of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.

Riverdale was Cook’s first introduction to Whitehorse in 2014, but he said he was slowly priced out of the neighbourhood as a renter.

“That was the reality. In a perfect world I’d live in Riverdale again, it’s like living in a hug. You know, you’re nestled in the foothills, you’ve got the river. You don’t need to drive. You can walk up on a bike and get to everywhere you need to be. It’s lovely,” he said.

Cook said housing is a core issue that affects other files such as education and healthcare. The lack of affordable housing is an obstacle to attracting professionals like education assistants, early childhood educators and doctors. He’s also concerned about the opioid crisis and supporting youth in education.

“I believe an NDP government with Kate White as leader will be making those difficult choices, having those hard conversations, bringing in progressive policies that’s going to see us into the next decade and hopefully see us prosper.”

Tracy-Anne McPhee - Yukon Liberal Party

Tracy-Anne McPhee said her street in Riverdale South has changed over the past decade as new people have moved in and started their young families.

She said there’s also a range of diverse housing, with seniors, subsidized housing, apartments and condos adding to the diversity of the neighbourhood. Residents value their green space, she said, and are concerned about climate change in addition to road safety, walkability and growth.

McPhee, a lawyer and former Yukon ombudsman, was elected in Riverdale South in 2016 with a wave of Liberal support across the territory.

After serving as Justice Minister, Government House Leader and Education Minister in the Liberal cabinet, she is now back on the campaign trail.

“When I first came to this job, I really believed that government could be done in a more positive way, that it could really be done in a way that needs to be responsive to the needs and wishes of Yukoners,” she said.

She said the Liberals have navigated the pandemic carefully, balancing safety with maintaining regular life in addition to making progress on Indigenous relations, outreaching to communities and updating aging infrastructure.

After a year of tough decisions — including moving Grade 10 and 12 students in Whitehorse to part-time in-class learning due to the pandemic health recommendations — McPhee was able to announce a $700 child care subsidy in her role as Education Minister just before the election was called.

“My neighbours are happy about the way in which the government has managed in the last four and a half years,” McPhee said. “I’m really proud of that work and I want to keep doing it.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at