Horse races: Some ridings to watch in the Yukon election

What happens when Yukoners go to the polls Nov. 7 is anyone’s guess.

What happens when Yukoners go to the polls Nov. 7 is anyone’s guess. All three main parties appear to have a chance to win, and the results of the election will hinge on what happens in the closest ridings. Looking at past results and current candidates, we’ve come up with a few ridings to pay close attention to on election night.

Copperbelt South

This one figures to be a doozy. The NDP’s Lois Moorcroft won Copperbelt South by three votes over the Yukon Party’s Valerie Boxall in 2011. This time she’s up against cabinet minister Scott Kent, who moved from Riverdale North, and Whitehorse city councillor Jocelyn Curteanu.

There are a number of questions at play here: Does Kent’s support travel across town? Does Curteanu’s municipal support — she took the most votes of any city council candidate in last year’s election — translate to partisan support? Is Moorcroft’s incumbent status and her resume as a political veteran and former cabinet minister enough for her to repeat in Copperbelt South?

Not only that, but the Greens are running a candidate in Philippe LeBlond. The Greens are unlikely to get more than a few dozen votes, but in a riding this close, that could be enough to change the outcome.

This riding should also serve — if you’ll pardon the cliche — as a bellwether. If the Yukon Party loses support, do those voters go to the NDP or the Liberals? Do the Liberals bleed support from the NDP? Does the Yukon Party benefit from a vote split on the centre-left? There is a lot to watch here.

Whitehorse Centre

Normally, an opposition leader’s riding would be considered more or less a lock going into a campaign, particularly when NDP Leader Liz Hanson won this seat with 63 per cent of the vote in 2011. In addition, since its creation in 1992, this seat has been solidly NDP, represented by former NDP leader Todd Hardy for 14 years (briefly interrupted by a Liberal win in 2000).

But the Liberals think Hanson could be vulnerable because she hasn’t faced top-shelf competition in previous votes (the 2011 election and a by-election in 2010) and Liberal candidate Tamara Goeppel has been knocking on doors in the riding for months. Throw in Education Minister Doug Graham’s baffling decision to forego the green links of retirement in favour of a kick at the can in Whitehorse Centre, and you have the makings of a competitive race. Graham was also knocking on doors ahead of the election call.

Hanson has to be considered the favourite, but history shows Yukoners aren’t shy about turfing party leaders in elections. This one will be interesting, even if you still have to squint pretty hard to see a Liberal win here.

Klondike

At first blush, this would appear to be a cakewalk for Liberal Leader Sandy Silver, who easily beat incumbent Yukon Party MLA Steve Nordick in 2011. Silver is well-liked, and it seems like he taught math to half the town.

But the Yukon Party has a Mr. Nice Guy of their own in Brad Whitelaw, an affable and successful business owner. And the NDP has nominated Jay Farr, himself a pretty friendly dude, who’s a sitting town councillor and citizen of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation who garnered more than 300 votes in last year’s municipal election.

Klondike hasn’t elected a New Democrat since the 1980s, and the NDP finished a distant third last time, but a strong run by Farr could siphon support from Silver. Meanwhile, if Dawson City’s business community, which leans pretty blue, coalesces around one of its own in Whitelaw, the Yukon Party could find itself back within striking distance.

Porter Creek Centre

This riding is without an incumbent, now that former Speaker David Laxton, who won a close, three-way race under the Yukon Party banner here in 2011, is facing a sexual assault charge. Laxton didn’t file papers to run as an Independent, after hinting he would, but at any rate he was dropped by the Yukon Party in favour of Michelle Kolla, a member of the Selkirk First Nation and the former executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Porter Creek Centre has returned a Yukon Party MLA in every election since the seat was created in 2002. Former cabinet minister Archie Lang twice won this seat by relatively wide margins, both times defeating Liberals who would later become Yukon Party members (Laxton and Scott Kent).

But Laxton barely held onto this riding in 2011, beating Liberal Kerry Huff by just over 50 votes, with the NDP’s Jean-François Des Lauriers finishing a very close third.

Paolo Gallina, who’s worked for Northwestel doling out sponsorships to community events and in sports marketing and who’s had plenty of chances to make friends in recent years, is running for the Liberals. The NDP’s Pat Berrel, a former school principal, was once a Yukon Party campaign manager for Lang. Voters here elected Laxton after he jumped to the Yukon Party from the Liberals, so maybe they’re okay with another MLA who’s changed political stripes.

Porter Creek South

Yukon Party cabinet minister Mike Nixon won a squeaker here in 2011, beating Liberal incumbent Don Inverarity by 14 votes. Being in cabinet certainly offers re-election advantages, but Porter Creek South is not a reliably blue seat, being a Liberal stronghold dating back to 1996, when former premier Pat Duncan rattled off three straight wins.

Nixon, who served as justice and health minister during the last assembly, is running again. He’s taking on Liberal candidate Ranj Pillai, a former Whitehorse city councillor and the executive director of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. During the campaign, Pillai has served as the party’s point man on economic issues. The NDP has nominated Shirley Chua-Tan, a realtor who was also Rendezvous Queen. She doesn’t live in the riding, but lives close by in Takhini-Kopper King, which is held by NDP incumbent Kate White.

The NDP has not been much of a factor here historically, but if the NDP is strong across the territory, perhaps that makes it harder for the Liberals to catch Nixon. Alternatively, Nixon could be in trouble if there are enough disillusioned voters who went for the Yukon Party last time.

Other ridings of interest:

Kluane: This seat has historically been kind to incumbents, sending former cabinet minister Bill Brewster to the legislature five times between 1982 and 1996, and Gary McRobb four times from 1996 to 2011. But it was a tight three-way race in 2011. Can Wade Istchenko hold on for the Yukon Party against Liberal Mathieya Alatini and Sally Wright of the NDP?

Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes: Mount Lorne has been reliably NDP since 1992, apart from the Duncan Liberal sweep in 2000. NDP incumbent Kevin Barr would seem to the favourite, but Liberal candidate John Streicker was a popular Whitehorse city councillor and took 19 per cent for the Green Party in 2011’s federal election. The Yukon Party has also been competitive here.

Vuntut Gwitchin: Darius Elias won this seat for the Liberals in 2011, was named interim Liberal leader, ditched the Liberals to sit as an Independent, then crossed the floor to the Yukon Party and was charged with refusing a breathalyzer in 2014. Pauline Frost, a negotiator for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, could pose a major challenge. Unlike in 2011, there’s an NDP candidate this time in Skeeter Wright, who’s parachuting in after losing his party’s nomination in Mountainview. With a small number of voters, Vuntut Gwitchin could be a tossup between the Yukon Party and the Liberals.

With files from Maura Forrest.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

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