Melissa Atkinson: the prosecutor

Melissa Atkinson is orange right down to the tips of her fingers. Literally. The federal NDP candidate has painted her fingernails orange for this election.

Melissa Atkinson is orange right down to the tips of her fingers. Literally. The federal NDP candidate has painted her fingernails orange for this election.

The political newcomer has worked hard to brand herself during this campaign, bringing up Thomas Mulcair and the need for change whenever possible.

“I just thought something has to change,” she said of her reason for seeking the NDP nomination this summer. “The real vision of change in looking to the future would be an NDP vote.”

Atkinson is big on catchphrases – she’s been “thrown under the omnibus” countless times, and regularly bemoans the “Un-Fair Elections Act.”

Her campaign faces one big challenge in differentiating her party’s platform from that of the Liberals. To that end, she’s spent a lot of time plugging her party’s plan for $15-a-day child care and a $15 minimum wage for federal workers.

But on key issues that have come up again and again during campaign debates, she and Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell have said essentially the same thing. They would both repeal the four offending clauses of Bill S-6. They would both launch an inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women. Both parties have promised electoral reform and to move the retirement age back from 67 to 65.

And when Northwest Territories NDP MP Dennis Bevington released the party’s plan for the North last week, Atkinson did little to promote it. The plan is one of the NDP’s only commitments that is specific to the territories. It promises $200 million for northern roads, bridges and ports, $100 million for renewable energy development in northern and remote communities, and improvements to the Nutrition North food subsidy program.

Atkinson has said $54 million is earmarked for infrastructure spending in the Yukon over the first four years of an NDP government, but she hasn’t been very vocal about it.

She’s had to come up to speed quickly as a political contender. Atkinson is the only one of the four candidates with no prior political experience, and she was nominated months after Bagnell and Green candidate Frank de Jong. Even as the campaign draws to a close, she still seems to be growing into the role. “Just being recognized is… a weird thing for me,” she said, referring to kids approaching her and asking for selfies.

During the first campaign debate at Yukon College, Atkinson came out swinging at Conservative candidate Ryan Leef. She maintains that a man in her position would not have been accused of being too angry.

“If a man does that, well, he’s the boss, he’s assertive, he’s getting the job done,” she said.

Atkinson is no stranger to overcoming hurdles. Born and raised in Whitehorse, she is a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and became the Yukon’s first aboriginal Crown prosecutor in 2002.

She said she was inspired to pursue law in high school after watching tanks roll on to Mohawk territory during the Oka crisis in Quebec.

“I was just flabbergasted when I saw that,” she said. “And I knew the best way to combat that would be education.”

She worked as chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission from 2004 to 2010, when she decided to switch from Crown prosecution to legal aid.

That history of representing Yukoners, she said, is what gives her the experience she needs to be an MP. “I never picked who I got to act for…. Knowing what it means to advocate on behalf of a client is a very powerful tool.”

Recently, Atkinson’s team has tried to position her as the logical choice for strategic voters. And a recent poll showed her with 29 per cent support, a large increase over her party’s results in 2011.

Still, she trailed Bagnell by 10 points in the poll. Strategic voting websites are recommending the Liberal party as the best choice for the Yukon, and the territory’s chiefs are calling for their citizens to vote accordingly to oust the Conservatives.

But Atkinson maintains that she’s “in it to win it.” And even if she doesn’t, she said, she’ll consider running again next time around.

“What are they going to do with all the signs with my giant head on them?” she joked.

“I’m going to be living in the Yukon. I’ll die in the Yukon. I’m not going anywhere.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

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

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read