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Getting to know the candidates in Kluane

Pandemic dominates election discussions in southwest Yukon
From left: Liberal Party candidate Luke Campbell, Yukon Party incumbent Wade Istchenko and Yukon NDP candidate Dave Weir. (Submitted)

The riding of Kluane, located in the Yukon’s southwest corner, includes Kluane National Park, Burwash Landing, Destruction Bay, Beaver Creek and the traditional territories of White River First Nation, Kluane First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nation.

The riding is characterized by majestic mountain peaks and the Alaska Highway, since most residents of the riding live alongside the most direct route to the United States.

The Kluane riding typically votes for personalities over parties — in the 90s the riding elected MLA Gary McRobb four times in a row, even after he switched from the NDP to the Liberals. When McRobb retired in 2011, Wade Istchenko took the riding for the Yukon Party. He won again in 2016, but shortened his lead over the Liberal party.

Luke Campbell - Liberals

Language teacher Luke Campbell, who was born-and-raised in Shadhala (Champagne), will be running for the Liberal Party in the upcoming election.

“I felt that trying to place myself into this larger leadership role would be very beneficial to see the larger picture of how I can help create opportunities for success in the Yukon,” he said.

Campbell is a member of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and a fluent Southern Tutchone speaker. He said he believes housing is one of the biggest issues in the territory, both in the smaller communities in Kluane and in Whitehorse.

“In my own community, there’s no rental units, and I live in Champagne, there’s no rental availability. So as I’ve been going and meeting with people, I see that as a huge burden for families and for single people as well,” he said.

Campbell has worked in both Whitehorse and Haines Junction, but eventually relocated back to his home community. He said the best part of campaigning has been a chance to connect with a wide variety of people within the riding, including students and parents he previously worked with as a school support worker and now language coordinator.

He said community members have been raising issues like housing affordability, land availability, mental wellness, community safety and opportunities for youth.

“We need to really help support our youth so that they become successful community members. That’s always been a passion of mine. Even if I’m not elected, I’m still going to be passionate about working for our youth and working with our kids,” he said.

Wade Istchenko - Yukon Party

Wade Istchenko was first elected to Kluane in 2011, but his family has a long history in Yukon politics — he is also the grandson of Hilda Watson, the first MLA to represent the riding in the 1970s.

“It is a demanding job but you know what? It is rewarding,” he said.

“The rewarding part is just helping people. When you get big government and stuff like that, there’s always going to be issues and being able just to talk to somebody and try and help them through it,” he said. “One of the big things is just the red tape and the bureaucracy behind a lot of stuff. We need to make it easier for organizations so we can get more volunteers in our communities.”

Istchenko served as Highways and Public Works Minister and Environment Minister in previous governments. He is also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and operated a tourism company before entering politics.

He said normal concerns in the riding include healthcare, education, green energy projects, and maintenance on the Alaska Highway. This year, economic recovery is dominating due to the effects of the pandemic on local businesses due to a lack of tourism and U.S. travel.

“When are restrictions going to be lifted? That’s probably the biggest theme on the doorstep,” he said, adding that the region is currently leading in vaccinations.

He said the community is still waiting on a new school planned for Burwash Landing and despite the potential, the local biomass fuel industry isn’t considered a priority.

“It’s been five years of promises in the budget, but nothing done,” he said.

Dave Weir - NDP

NDP candidate Dave Weir has two businesses that are informing his strong opinions in his first run for territorial politics.

As a tourism operator in the high arctic, he’s been hit hard by the pandemic. As the owner of a construction business, he has insight into how unaffordable housing has become in the Yukon.

“One of the biggest issues I’ve been hearing about is housing. I’ve talked to hundreds of people and that’s one of the number one issues that comes up. That situation is only going to grow unless we tackle it aggressively on several fronts,” he said.

Weir moved to Haines Junction in 2007. He is running with the NDP because he believes that party will make the difficult decisions to bring change.

Weir said economic growth in Kluane is another concern. He described tourism potential as “a gold mine” and said trail development and marketing could go a long way to providing more local opportunities. He said forestry is a secondary industry that needs development.

Climate change, food security and diverse energy supplies are also important for communities that rely on one road in and out.

“I think a lot of the time in small communities, people are afraid of putting their ideas and opinions forward publicly, because of blowback from the community. And I would just encourage people to be kind, but to not be afraid to speak their opinions,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at