Change in electoral ridings in Yukon getting mixed reviews

Commission suggests reducing two rural ridings while adding two new ridings in Whitehorse

The Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission’s proposal to change the territory’s electoral ridings is receiving mixed reactions.

Earlier this month, the commission submitted an interim report to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

The commission is required to review existing electoral districts to ensure effective representation in the legislature. Yukon’s electoral ridings were last changed in 2008.

There are currently 19 electoral districts in the Yukon, eight of which are rural. The commission proposes reducing the eight rural ridings to six, as well as adding two new ridings in Whitehorse’s growing Whistlebend neighborhood, increasing the number there from 11 to 13.

The report states the restructured ridings will help account for increasing population growth in the territory, especially in the capital and in Whistlebend.

It notes between 2008 and June 2023, the territory’s population increased by 37 per cent, while the population of Whitehorse increased by over 40 per cent.

The territory’s population is expected to increase by 14 per cent, or 6,620 people, by 2030.

The report states the territory’s rapid population growth has caused underrepresentation in five of the electoral districts in Whitehorse above the 25 per cent permissible variance.

‘It would be a benefit’

A map of Yukon’s current electoral ridings, as well as the proposed ridings. Source: Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission’s Interim Report

The commission’s proposal is welcome news to Chief Dylan Loblaw of the Ross River Dena Council in the community of Ross River in southeastern Yukon.

The Kaska community is located within the Pelly-Nisutlin riding. The riding includes a handful of geographically distant communities, such as the community of Teslin, which is located more than six hours away and is culturally Tlingit.

Loblaw said the current electoral riding system doesn’t make sense for his community.

“We’ve been split up between jurisdictions and in those political ridings they aren’t serving our best interests the way it is now,” he said. “Each nation is their own nation and they have their own their own concerns and challenges to deal with them.

“How can an MLA serve those communities and go above and beyond?”

The commission proposes splitting Ross River and the nearby community of Faro and merging them with the Watson Lake riding, which is home to the Liard First Nation, the territory’s only other Kaska community. The new riding would be called Yukon East.

The report states the new riding would better represent the Kaska’s shared land and interests.

“It would be a benefit for (Ross River) to be in the same riding (as Watson Lake),” Loblaw said.

“We can have a more united approach and be able to voice their concerns and hopefully see some things being addressed more appropriately, more adequately.”

Vuntut Gwitchin

Chief Dylan Loblaw of the Ross River Dena Council says merging the Pelly-Nisutlin riding with the Watson Lake riding will benefit his community. Photo: Jordan Haslbeck/APTN News

The proposed changes could also significantly impact the Vuntut Gwitchin riding in northern Yukon, the territory’s only fly-in community.

With 188 voters, the riding is the smallest in Canada.

The commission said the riding creates electoral unbalance because of its smaller number of voters. It suggests merging the riding with the Klondike riding which represents the community of Dawson City and surrounding area.

The new riding would be called Yukon North.

Annie Blake, NDP MLA for the riding, said in a statement that it’s “important that people in my community get a chance to look at the commission’s interim report.”

“There’s a lot to consider as the commission continues its work, and I’ll be listening to what people in Old Crow have to say,” she said.

Yukon NDP MLA Annie Blake, who represents the Vuntut Gwitchin riding. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN News

APTN News reached out to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) but did not receive a response.

Floyd McCormick, a retired clerk for the Yukon legislature, said if the proposed changes for the Vuntut Gwitchin riding go forward voters there will likely be left underrepresented.

He said in decades prior, residents of Old Crow were in the same riding as Dawson City. McCormick said there’s no indication anyone from Old Crow had ever been elected to the legislature prior to becoming its own riding.

He said what is now the Vuntut Gwitchin Riding was created in 1978 to improve representation for First Nations people living in an isolated community.

According to the report, transportation access to the community has improved with daily flights and VGFN has Gwitchin connections with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in Dawson City.

“In that sense, Old Crow is not as remote as it used to be… but I’m not sure how that really affects the notion of people from Old Crow being represented in the house,” McCormick said.

He noted there were about eight times as many voters in Dawson City compared to Old Crow during the last general election.

He said if the riding is merged with Dawson City, it’s unlikely that anyone from Old Crow would get nominated, much less elected.

“If people in Old Crow think that they’re never going to get anybody elected to the Legislative Assembly, then how does that affect their inclination to participate in territorial elections?” he said.

“I can’t answer that question. I don’t even think that perhaps people in Old Crow can answer that question right now. But, you know, those are the sorts of things that that have to be considered.”

Rural representation important

Retired clerk of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, Floyd McCormick, feels the territory’s ridings shouldn’t be reduced from eight to six. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN News

McCormick feels the number of rural ridings should stay the same. He expressed his concerns in a submission to the commission last month.

He hopes the commission will focus on voter parity within Whitehorse and between Whitehorse and rural ridings, even if it leads to an increase in the number of Whitehorse ridings.

He feels it’s important people living in rural Yukon, especially Indigenous people, have effective representation.

“If you ended up with decreasing amounts of rural representation in the house, I don’t know how people outside Whitehorse are going to look at the Legislative Assembly and whether they see it as an institution that really represents them in an effective way,” he said.

McCormick’s concerns echo the Association of Yukon Communities, which is calling on the commission to hold an in-person consultation with AYC membership.

“The interim report’s recommendation to increase the amount of Whitehorse legislative seats from 11 to 13 while reducing rural seats from 8 to 6 would negatively impact the ability of rural Yukon to have its voice and concerns reflected in the business of the Legislative Assembly,” it said in a release.

“It would become easier for majority governments to be formed without any representation from rural Yukon – further marginalizing remote communities.”

The commission is holding public hearings on the proposed changes in Yukon communities until mid-June.

Its final report will be released in October.

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