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At the Yukon First Nation Forum for the Federal candidates held on September 29th, hosted by the Council of Yukon First Nations, it was a packed house of over two hundred people in beautiful downtown Whitehorse. All the political parties were represented, including the Conservative candidate. He has attended some but not all of the various debates held in the Yukon. This debate was broadcast on a First Nation owned community radio station, CHON-FM, and was live-streamed on YouTube. 

There were two introductions to the debate, one by the Chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Doris Bill, on whose traditional territory the forum was held. The other introduction was by the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Ruth Massie. 

The points raised over both introductions included the almost complete lack of concern from the current Federal government regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, inadequate consultation on changes to the Yukon environmental assessment bill (Bill S-6), the need for action on the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the anti-terrorism bill which could theoretically target First Nation activists (Bill C-51) and the absence of the “honour of the Crown” when addressing Yukon First Nation treaty rights and unfinished land claims negotiations in the territory. 

With that setting the tone for the debate, it was time for the candidates from the NDP (Melissa Atkinson), the Liberals (Larry Bagnell) and the Greens (Frank de Jong) to rip into the Conservative candidate (Ryan Leef). After they had finished, the audience had a go. 

While there seemed to be a small organized Conservative cheering section in the audience, Leef was the only candidate to get booed. That was to his response, in answer to a question from the audience, on when will Canada get rid of the first-past-the-post system. He actually said Canadians would be confused by a new system and it would probably lead to lower voter turnouts. He also foolishly stated that it would take too long a time to sort out a new system because the Conservatives would want to hear from each and every Canadian. The Green candidate, de Jong, got in the best zinger of the evening when he pointed out that the Conservatives most definitely did not consult with each and every Yukoner on some deeply unpopular changes to the Yukon environmental assessment act (Bill S-6). That got one of the the loudest cheers of the evening from the audience. 

Oddly enough, this election campaign has seen no sign of the Harper appointed Yukon’s Senator Dan Lang. He was the one that introduced it into the Senate. One would think that he would be around to try and take some of the heat off their Parlimentary candidate on this controversial issue. But nary a sign of him. Perhaps the Conservative spin doctors reckon he would be too much of a reminder of the various indignities that the current federal government has inflicted upon the Yukon. 

The various Yukon First Nation governments have reacted to this in part by not only hosting this forum but also by getting their citizens registered. Some have hired people to make sure their citizens are registered to vote and understand the electoral process. Thanks to the Fair Elections Act it is now more difficult for voters living in smaller communities to have appropriate identification. A drivers license might have a post office box as the address, which on its own is now not good enough for Elections Canada. Many Yukoners, including quite a number of First Nation citizens, are in this situation. 

First Nation voters without adequate electoral identification can now get a letter of residence from their own government showing that they do live within a region or community administered by that particular First Nation. This combined with a picture identification acceptable to Elections Canada should be good enough to vote. There have been some unique Yukon quirks though. It has recently come to light that two small rural and mainly First Nation communities will not have polling stations on election day. Some residents will have to drive 64 kilometres — one way — to vote. 

Despite this, there will be most certainly be more Yukon First Nations voting this time around. This is bad news for the Conservatives. Given their track record they cannot grow beyond their base support in the Yukon, and any new voters to the total voting pool will almost certainly be voting for one of the other parties. 

Everyone is very much aware the Conservatives won by only 132 votes last time. There are about 37 thousand people in the Yukon, with 20 per cent of the population being First Nation. If the percentage of First Nation voters increases only marginally the Conservatives are doomed. In fact, looking at some recent polling it looks like they will probably fall to third place. However, most Yukoners are aware that last time around it looked like the Liberals were a shoe-in and a lot of people voted for the Green candidate and have regretted that decision ever since.

There are concerns about strategic voting this time around, but given the potential rise in First Nation voters and the collapse of support for the Green Party (and thus the distribution of almost all of those votes to either the NDP or the Liberals), it will be extremly unlikely the Yukon will be staying politically blue in the future. 

The federal Conservatives have treated Yukon First Nations with scorn, contempt and slight regard. Election day, October 19, will be payback time. 

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Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. His work centers around Yukon recycling, energy and mining issues. When he is not winter camping or summer hiking, he collects stamps...