WHITEHORSE — Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for Canada’s fourth election held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the legislature was dissolved, the Liberals held a majority followed by the Yukon Party and the NDP.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver, who was first elected in 2011, led the party to a surprise election win in 2016, going from the only elected representative to leading the party’s second-ever majority government.
“People wanted change,” he said in a recent interview about the win. “The first year, we were feeding from the fire hose … I was the only member of my team at that point that had any legislative experience.”
Silver pointed to his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent territorial budget, which estimated the GDP would grow by 7.9 per cent in 2021, as reasons voters should choose to keep his party in power.
“Now is not the time to change courses,” he said. “We’re in a good place, we’ve balanced the budget and now is not the time to retrain a bunch of (members of the legislative assembly).”
The Liberals’ win brought an end to 14 years of Yukon Party rule, relegating the party to the Official Opposition.
Currie Dixon, a former member of the legislature, was chosen as the party’s new leader in 2019, marking a return to politics for someone who was once one of Canada’s youngest cabinet ministers.
“The current government has said the right things,” he said. “But where we’ve noticed Yukoners are left asking for more is on action. We want to deliver action, for a change.”
If elected, Dixon said the party will take actions including reversing cuts to the territory’s business relief program, freezing power rates for two years and enhancing tourism funding in the first 100 days in office.
The territory’s spending and debt have risen during the Liberals’ time in power and the Yukon Party is concerned about repaying that debt, Dixon said.
Dixon also criticized the decision to hold an election as the territory works through its vaccination rollout.
“We think it was driven by self-interest,” he said.
Silver disputed that characterization.
“Was it the intent of calling the election at this time? No,” he said. “We had the Opposition calling for the election since August. Every second question in the legislative assembly was, ‘When are you going to call the election?’ ‘”
Elections held during the pandemic across Canada have resulted in majority governments for the parties that held power heading in to the vote.
The New Democrats, Yukon’s third party, and its leader Kate White are advertising themselves as the progressive alternative to the two main parties.
White has led the NDP since 2019, and has been an elected representative since 2011.
“The goal for the election is a fundamental shift,” she said. “The pandemic has really done a good job of highlighting where those gaps exist … this is an opportunity to look forward to the future that we want.”
White said an NDP government would freeze rents and improve access to health care.
The NDP previously led the territory for 12 years between 1985 and 2000, but hasn’t been able to do so since the turn of the century.
However, White said the party is focused on winning a majority government.
— By Nick Wells in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021.
The Canadian Press