Ken Hodgins, a former director of community services for the Yukon government, wants to be the NDP’s candidate in Pelly-Nisutlin during this year’s territorial election.
The riding includes Teslin, Faro and Ross River, as well as Little Salmon and Johnsons Crossing.
Hodgins said Pelly-Nisutlin has been “largely ignored” when it comes to possibilities for sustainable economic development, including tourism and culture opportunities. He claimed that communities like Carcross and Pelly Crossing have created skilled jobs through “productive partnerships, most notably in the trades,” while Ross River, Teslin and Faro have been treated as pools of unskilled labour.
“The attitude in the riding has generally been to fish for short-term opportunities,” he said.
He said the communities also suffer from a lack of mental health care, with a single mental health care worker visiting every couple of weeks. Ideally, someone would be designated to work specifically in the riding’s three main communities, he said.
Pelly-Nisutlin is arguably the most geographically dispersed riding in the territory. Aside from when the South Canol Road is open in the summer, there are nearly 600 kilometres of highway between Teslin and Ross River.
Since the riding’s creation in 2002, each of its three MLAs has come from Teslin.
“And Faro and Ross River at times feel a little bit forgotten insofar as attention from the MLA and attention from Yukon government broadly,” said Hodgins, who lives at the west end of Little Salmon Lake, an hour west of Faro.
Incumbent MLA Stacey Hassard is “seldom seen” in the northern part of the riding, he said.
“I’m committed to be on hand in the communities much more frequently than present and past MLAs have proven to have done,” he said. “But it’s a long hike.”
And it’s not just geography that separates the communities in Pelly-Nisutlin.
“The huge (difference) is that Teslin has been able to move forward very successfully and aggressively on its own economic initiatives,” Hodgins said, adding that part of that is because the Teslin Tlingit Council has signed a final agreement and is self-governing.
He believes the Ross River Dena Council’s refusal to sign a final agreement has coloured its interactions with the Yukon government.
“The relationship is a relationship of reluctance and an absence of good will and that’s something that we would look to be changing,” he said.
As an unincorporated community, Ross River is directly overseen by the Yukon government. Hodgins, who helped write the Municipal Act in 1998 during his tenure as director of community services, said there should be a way to give Ross River some more control over its own services.
He believes that kind of independence would help the community deal with issues like the feral dogs that killed a young man in Ross River last fall.
In contrast, Hodgins said Faro has transitioned well since the Faro mine closed in 1998, helped along by the “significant concentration of Yukon government services and presence in Faro.” Still, he said the community hasn’t been given a lot of opportunities for employment in the care and maintenance of the mine site.
Hodgins said he’s running for the NDP because the Yukon Party hasn’t respected the spirit of the final agreements in its relationship with Yukon First Nations.
“Dragging First Nations into court is exactly the kind of environment these agreements were meant to avoid,” he said.
Hodgins said he worked with Teslin, Faro and Ross River when he was director of community services, from 1997 to 2003. He has also been executive director of the Kwanlin Dun and Kluane First Nations, and has worked for the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun.
He was also the chief administrative officer of Faro in 2010 and 2011.
Before moving to the Yukon 20 years ago, Hodgins worked with First Nations in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and was an advisor to executive members of the Assembly of First Nations.
He moved to Little Salmon Lake 14 years ago.
Hassard has announced he will seek re-election in Pelly-Nisutlin for the Yukon Party. Blair Hogan is seeking the Liberal nomination. Elvis Presley is running as an Independent.
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