After the retirement of former leader Liz Hanson, party leader Kate White entered the campaign as the sole elected NDP MLA. The election period started with a full suite of candidates running in every riding and a lot of room for growth.
White points out a one-MLA party vaulted from last place to majority government in 2016.
“The one Liberal formed the majority government, so anything is possible,” she said. “I think that is the message to folks, that this isn’t unheard of and it could go that way.”
The Liberals swept the last election in a red wave, reducing the NDP to third party status with two elected MLAs. Now the party is eyeing multiple swing ridings, hoping their ambitious platform is enough to wrestle back control of previously orange ridings.
White was chosen as leader in May 2019. At the start of the 2021 campaign, she came out swinging against the “men in suits.”
“Some people will say I don’t look like a premier,” she said in her opening press conference after the writ dropped. “But I know I’m not alone, because I look like you.”
The 2021 campaign was leadership-driven, with candidates regularly espousing faith in White and referencing her as reasons they stepped forward to run. White said all her candidates are “community builders.”
“It is incredibly generous. I feel really lucky. I like to think that’s a testament to who I am as a person, and it hasn’t changed in the 10 years that I’ve been elected. I’m who I was before I got elected, and it’s who I will be when I’m done this path,” she said. “I just feel really lucky that folks who I see have the same qualities and are doing this with me.”
She admits that this year, her policy platform “is ambitious.”
Major campaign promises — including a territory-wide transit system, free post-secondary tuition, universal dental and pharmacare, fertility coverage and a housing authority — could have a steep price tag.
White is confident that new revenue measures and budget re-shuffling make them realistic without major increases in the federal transfer payments.
“Going into this election, I told folks, ‘Well, some people might not like what I’m saying, but no one will be surprised by it.’ Right? No one should be surprised by some of these policies and these ideas, because I’ve talked about them for years,” she said.
“So there is that consistency, and it’s grounded in other people’s experiences,” she said
Discussion of housing — affordability and availability — has made it into all three party platforms and a number of debates.
White has proposed a cap on annual rent increases, in addition to the development of new lots and a housing program based on the Whistler Housing Authority that would reserve some properties outside of the usual market value.
“I mean, in 2011, we called it a housing crisis. In 2016 we called it a housing crisis. In 2021 we’re still calling it a housing crisis. Right? So we need to get out of it,” she said. “Housing is a concern for people who have houses because they’re concerned about their neighbors, their communities, their kids, their family members. So housing affects everybody.”
Healthcare is one of the largest sections in the party’s platform. Two of the foundational planks are extending universal healthcare to include dental and prescription coverage to Yukoners who are not already covered under insurance. There are also plans for a safe supply program to combat addictions and coverage for fertility treatments.
“A lot of our energy is in prevention because we know that we put money into prevention and we save a huge amount of money downstream,” said White.
“Our whole platform on health is based around people. I mean fertility treatment, knowing that families look different, that’s a health issue. You should be able to go and get that support. People shouldn’t have put our entire life savings on the line to have kids,” she said.
White has also made it clear that climate change, the environment are important issues to the NDP campaign. She has committed to a moratorium on staking during the land-planning process, more upfront clean-up money from mining projects and update mining legislation.
White said on the education file, the territory needs to do a better job of supporting Indigenous students and improving graduation rates. The platform also includes the hiring of an additional 50 teaching assistants and education assistants.
White said supporting businesses, including the tourism sector, out of the pandemic will also be important. The NDP platform includes proposals for buy local campaigns, support for Yukon farmers and a seasonal program to discount national shipping around the holidays.
“It’s small businesses who support community right? So this is about communities supporting small business,” she said.
“I also think that the pandemic is really like kind of blasted open some of the cracks in society, really blew them open. This is an opportunity to address those shortcomings.”
The New Democratic Party’s platform, condensed
The Yukon NDP platform is 82 pages, divided into sections for strengthening healthcare, housing, justice, education, poverty, youth, immigration, economics and good government.
The document identifies 129 “problems” and summarizes NDP solutions to each.
In order to pay for their ambitious goals, the NDP has also proposed new taxes and revenue streams. The government would raise income tax by one per cent on Yukoners who earn over $250,000 in personal income.
A new two per cent tax would apply to the income of workers who fly in but live outside the territory. The NDP has also committed to raising royalties on mining operations.
During a press conference on March 29, White said the party had not calculated how much extra revenue those measures would bring in. She said the additional funds would be divided between the platform priorities.
The NDP has committed to adopting all 72 recommendations in the Putting People First report of healthcare in the territory.
In addition, the party says prescription coverage and dental coverage must be included in universal healthcare. The plans would only apply to Yukoners who didn’t already have comparable benefits under their workplace. Current subsidies on assistive devices would also be expanded for disabled Yukoners.
The party wants to build a seven-day-a-week counselling walk-in clinic for mental health services in Whitehorse. In the rural communities, the NDP says it will “aggressively recruit” counsellors.
The party has also committed to bringing in a safe supply program to reduce addiction fatalities, create a new live-in managed alcohol program, double the amount of withdrawal management beds in the territory and build a rural on-the-land treatment centre.
Other promises include:
- Matching every Yukoner with a family doctor or nurse practitioner;
- Attract and retain more rural healthcare providers;
- More labels for alcohol and regulation for offsales;
- Making hemodialysis available in the territory;
- An “opt-out” organ donation system;
- More long-term care beds;
- Provide free menstrual products in schools;
- Cover fertility treatment, including travel, up to $8,000 a year.
Under services, the NDP platform includes housing, justice, education, poverty, youth and immigration.
The NDP said they will immediately raise the minimum wage to $15.20 and work towards future increases. They also “want to explore” a basic income pilot project.
The platform says “housing is a human right” and proposes several strategies to make renting and home ownership more affordable, including a housing authority that would reserve some properties at below-market rates. The party would also introduce a cap on annual rent increases.
All three parties have proposed universal childcare. Under the NDP vision, the Liberal subsidy for licensed daycare spots would continue. There would be an additional direct subsidy for families that fall outside the typical daycare hours.
Under their plan for the economy, the NDP have committed supporting the tourism industry during the pandemic recovery.
For small businesses, the NDP have also promised to explore “Buy Local” campaigns, subsidizing free shipping across Canada around the holidays and ensure the government must buy more supplies from local companies.
The NDP have also committed to a Yukon-wide scheduled bus system to connect rural communities with Whitehorse.
On the environment, the NDP have said they will introduce species at risk legislation, continue a ban on fracking and introduce a wetland protection policy.
Other promises include:
- Developing more residential lots;
- Build a women’s halfway house;
- Another French immersion program in Whitehorse;
- Hire 50 more assistant teachers and educational assistants;
- Free post-secondary tuition at Yukon University for people who have lived in the Yukon for at least three years;
- New support for artists;
- Removing staking from the land use planning process;
- Tax on Outside workers;
- “Eat local, buy local” rebate for purchasing from local food producers;
- Regulation of rideshare and food delivery services such as DoorDash;
- Guarantee sick days for all employees;
- Creating $100 a month maximum internet packages;
- Two new Whitehorse campgrounds.
The NDP’s big promises on government include changing the electoral system to a proportional system and implementing new restrictions on party donations. The NDP have also committed to adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and require First Nation consent for resource extraction.
The party has also said they will bring back “The Yukon” as an official government style.
The full NDP platform is available on the party’s website.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org