The New Democratic Party made history on Monday’s federal election.
They are the strongest they have ever been, with 102 seats in Parliament. And, for the first time ever, they are the Official Opposition.
This is why, as the night progressed in Whitehorse Monday, the gathering of NDP supporters grew and remained happy even as their territorial candidate placed last in the polls.
With 2,308 total votes, Kevin Barr came in 729 votes behind the next closest candidate, John Streicker and 3,114 votes behind the Yukon’s new Tory MP, Ryan Leef.
It was more than two hours before the official results were announced when Barr addressed supporters, giving them his thanks and genially accepting defeat.
He walked into Antoinette’s Food Cache, where the drink of choice was, appropriately, Orange Crush.
Barr’s campaign organizer, Liz Wood, whistled to pull peoples’ attention from the party’s national success being played out on the television.
Once heads did turn, the restaurant erupted in applause and “Kev-in” cheers. The crowd gathered around him.
“We got into this a couple weeks later and we’ve done better than we have in a long time,” he said. “Just by looking at the people here and the crowd tonight, come the fall time, watch out ‘cause we are going to get ourselves back to where we have been here in the territory.”
Barr is considering putting his own name forward in the upcoming territorial election.
“It’s not over,” he said. “We’re going to continue to fight for the marginalized folks.”
The growth in the party’s support nationally will only help work in the territory, said Barr.
“There’s a close communication, I think, territorially with the federal NDP,” he said.
Affordable housing, First Nations issues and the need to protect Yukon’s environment and way of life from the current mining boom are the main concerns that need to be brought to
Ottawa, said Barr.
But with Leef as the territory’s representative, and with the federal Conservatives in power with a majority, those are exactly the concerns that will be ignored, said Alex Furlong, who was beat out by Barr for the NDP candidacy.
The Yukon Federation of Labour president predicts a cut in public services, more financial burden on families and an erosion of women’s rights and the strength of NGOs across Canada.
An influx of foreign workers without equal rights in the territory will be another result of this new leadership, said Furlong.
“If you’re a woman, if you’re a minority, if you’re a First Nation, if you’re a worker trying to make ends meet in the country – stay tuned because you’re about to have a rough ride for four years,” he said. “One thing we are certain of is that this guy’s (Leef) track record is not on the side of working people.”
And while the party’s national success is worth celebrating, it is necessary for New Democrats to remain realistic, according to Furlong.
“With a Conservative majority government, we have absolutely no idea what will happen,” he said, adding that he will hold Leef to “put his money where his mouth is” when Yukoners and Stephen Harper disagree on how he should vote.
“I know politics and he’s going to have a quick indoctrination. We’ll see how well he does when Stephen Harper says if you don’t vote my way, it’s the highway.”
And there are many things on the Conservative agenda that will pass unchecked, said Furlong, adding that they were not even discussed during the election campaigns.
One is the trade agreement in the works between Canada and the European Union.
The agreement will have a huge impact on municipalities, First Nations and the Yukon specifically, he said.
“We have some of the world’s richest water resources,” he said. “They want our water. There’s no secret of that. And our water will become for sale.”
Orange-clad supporters considered the split in votes between the Green Party, the NDP and the Liberals in the territory the main force behind Leef’s win.
And there is no need for it, said Pam Boyde.
She was a two-time federal candidate for the territorial NDP and served as Piers McDonald’s executive assistant for his nearly two decades in territorial politics. She wore an orange T-shirt with the NDP logo and the words “the original green party” written on it.
The NDP’s environmental platform is still the strongest in the nation, said Boyde.
“So yes, we didn’t win, but we’re on a winning wave,” she said. “We’re growing. The tide of orange is coming.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at