Yukon New Democrats have chosen former Justice Minister John Edzerza to represent the party in McIntyre-Takhini in the upcoming territorial election.
Edzerza, the riding’s incumbent, defeated NDP stalwart Rachel Lewis in a nomination vote held at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on Saturday.
Edzerza took 37 of the 51 ballots cast by NDP members of his riding, leaving only 14 for Lewis.
Thirty-one of the ballots were cast at an advance poll Thursday.
“I definitely will work my butt off to win this riding in the next election, and I’m going to work very hard from now until the election day is over to make sure that the NDP party forms the next government,” Edzerza told the assembly, to raucous applause.
Edzerza claimed to have sold more than 50 NDP memberships in the McIntyre-Takhini riding since he resigned from Yukon Party caucus on August 2, 2006.
“We had to go out and basically work the riding to get the people in the riding to come out and select their candidate,” he said.
“With the Yukon Party I was more or less acclaimed. There was no competition.
“So this was very different. It’s like biting your fingernails twice.”
He’ll likely square off against veteran First Nations leader Ed Schultz, who is seeking the Yukon Liberal Party nomination in McIntyre-Takhini.
The Yukon Party has yet to announce a candidate to replace Edzerza as its candidate in the riding.
There were 94 eligible voters on the NDP membership list for McIntyre-Takhini, which encompasses the Whitehorse subdivisions of Takhini, McIntyre and Arkell, as well as Yukon College, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, the Canada Games Centre and the offices of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Although Lewis wouldn’t say how many memberships she sold, she said she felt at equal strength with Edzerza coming in to the vote.
“I think we both found a lot of support,” Lewis said in the hallway outside the meeting room as she waited for the ballots to be counted.
“We (the NDP) are going to win,” she said, confidently.
“I keep hearing it on the doorstep: people want this election.”
Only about 20 party faithful attended the candidate speeches prior to the vote.
Several First Nations voters arrived during the hour-long voting period, cellphones in hand, and left once they had cast their ballots.
“It was actually quite amazing,” Edzerza said just before the results were released.
“People called me up and asked how they could help me out.
“I just gave them some forms to fill out and made sure they knew when they had to be here.
“And they all came out today.”
Edzerza, who does not live in the riding, won 288 votes, or 22.7 per cent of the total cast, in the five-candidate race for McIntyre-Takhini in the 2002 election, edging the NDP’s Maureen Stephens by 18 votes.
He won 265 votes in an unsuccessful bid for the riding under the Yukon Party banner during the 2000 election that unseated former NDP premier Piers McDonald.
When Saturday’s results were announced, Lewis, who campaigned unsuccessfully for the NDP in the 2000 and 2002 elections, was gracious.
“I like campaigns, I like elections and I’m going to continue to stay involved,” she said after giving Edzerza a congratulatory hug.
Lewis said she will not run in another riding, and will not seek an independent seat.
Edzerza’s nomination over a loyalist won’t cause divisions within the party, said interim NDP leader Steve Cardiff, who is filling in for Todd Hardy, who is undergoing chemotherapy at a Vancouver Hospital.
“We welcome him to the team,” said Cardiff.
“Obviously he holds a lot of the same values that the NDP hold.”
However, in some ways Edzerza’s election compromises the NDP.
Edzerza was the Yukon Party minister responsible for the Public Service Commission during the government’s 2002-2003 computer-misuse investigation that involved searches of 542 government computers and resulted in disciplinary action against 96 employees.
Edzerza refused to answer questions about the infamous ‘porn probe’ in November 2003, citing personnel matters as confidential.
But the Yukon Employees Union — a staunch supporter of the NDP — criticized the Yukon Party government for its actions many times during a very public argument.
“Those are issues that we’ll have to work out,” said Cardiff.
“Mr. Edzerza will have to give his version of what really happened there and explain that to the party.
“It’s something that definitely needs to be addressed.”
Union president Laurie Butterworth was unavailable for comment before press time.
Edzerza’s nomination capped a busy week of Yukon electioneering.
Former YEU president Dave Hobbis — who led the charge against the computer-misuse investigation — recently announced his intention to seek the NDP nomination in Porter Creek North, where he will challenge incumbent minister Jim Kenyon and Yukon Liberal Party candidate Dale Cheeseman in the upcoming election.
NDP candidates Peter Lesniak and James McCullough were acclaimed to represent Riverdale South and Riverdale North, respectively, Thursday evening.
Earlier Thursday, former Whitehorse city councillor Samson Hartland announced his intention to seek the NDP nomination in Porter Creek South.
And on Wednesday, Marion Horne, a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council, won the Yukon Party nomination for Pelly-Nisutlin.
“The Yukon Party government recognizes the need to have more women in politics,” Horne said in a release.
“Women make up almost half of the Yukon population and yet are under-represented in government.
“I am impressed with the work done by the Yukon Party government on women’s issues in this territory and I want to be part of advancing this work.”
Horne’s nomination was contested by Teslin local James Smarch, whom Premier Dennis Fentie praised in a release.
“It is very gratifying to see young people step forward,” said Fentie.
“There is definitely room for young people to aspire to take on the reins of public office.”
Horne replaced MLA Dean Hassard as the Yukon Party candidate for Pelly-Nisutlin.
Hassard recently announced his intention to seek the party’s nomination in Porter Creek South.
“The riding of Pelly-Nisutlin has not lost here,” said Fentie, who attended Horne’s nomination.
“We now have a very good candidate for both this riding and for Porter Creek South.”
Rick Harder, the chief administrative officer of Watson Lake, will seek the Liberal nomination in Fentie’s home riding.
And Russ Hobbis, a small businessman, will seek the Yukon Party nomination in Copperbelt to challenge Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.