Some Watson Lake residents don't want to see their electoral boundaries changed

A sign welcomes people to Watson Lake, Yukon, on a snowy winter's day. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC - image credit)
A sign welcomes people to Watson Lake, Yukon, on a snowy winter's day. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC - image credit)

A proposal to merge the ridings of Watson Lake and Pelly-Nisutlin — which includes the communities of Faro and Ross River — received pushback from residents at a public hearing Tuesday night.

Approximately 35 people attended the Watson Lake event to hear from the Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission and to provide feedback on the proposed changes.

The idea of a merged district, to be called Yukon East, didn't sit well with many of the people in attendance, including Watson Lake Mayor Chris Irvin.

"I don't think it's the correct approach," said Irvin. "All of these regions that have had this representation for the history of the Yukon [are] losing that representation in the legislature."

The Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission's 2024 Interim Report, released in May, proposes that the territory increase the number of ridings in Whitehorse to 13, due to its growing population, while merging rural ridings down to six.

Watson Lake Yukon's Mayor Chris Irvin is calling for anything that will improve long term care in his community.
Watson Lake Yukon's Mayor Chris Irvin is calling for anything that will improve long term care in his community.

Watson Lake, Yukon Mayor Chris Irvin said it makes sense for Whitehorse to have more ridings, but that shouldn't come at the expense of rural Yukon's representation. (Submitted by Chris Irvin)

Irvin said it makes sense to increase the number of ridings in the Yukon's capital to adequately represent the population, but it shouldn't mean rural Yukon gets fewer.

"It may seem that Whitehorse is not being represented as fairly but it's, I think, a demographic situation," he said. "I mean, you can represent 2,500 people when they live in a two-square-kilometre area. But when you have, for example, Watson Lake, Ross River area...that's a thousand-square-kilometre representation, and it's a lot harder to represent those people."

Irvin said he thinks the commission should consider keeping the electoral districts in rural Yukon as they currently are.

Richard Durocher, who also attended the meeting, said it doesn't make sense to have one MLA for three completely different communities.

"Our needs and wants are not all the same," Durocher said. "They're different in a lot of ways. I was concerned about how the pie would be divvied up and whose concerns would be addressed first.

New electoral district boundaries, recommended by Yukon's Electoral District Boundaries Commission, May 2024
New electoral district boundaries, recommended by Yukon's Electoral District Boundaries Commission, May 2024

New electoral district boundaries, recommended by Yukon's Electoral District Boundaries Commission. (Yukon Electoral District Boundaries Commission)

"Secondly, I was concerned that the MLA would come from Watson Lake primarily because we have a larger electoral voting public, and I was worried that that would cause animosity with Faro and Ross River."

The same concerns came from residents of Dawson City over the commission's proposed plan to merge the ridings of Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow with Dawson's Klondike riding.

"I truly believe that every community within the electoral boundary, incorporated or not incorporated, should have somebody listen to their concerns separately and address their concerns fully," Durocher said, "meaning 100 percent of the time spent looking at their interests."

Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod was not available for comment but her office provided CBC News with a letter she sent to the commission.

Public hearings continue

"I believe that one of the key principles that should drive the work of the commission is balancing the political representation of rural Yukon with Whitehorse," she wrote. "I understand that there has been significant population growth in Whitehorse, which necessitates some increase in representation in that community, however I do not think reducing seats in rural Yukon is warranted."

The commission has held in-person hearings in the communities of Mayo, Faro, Ross River, Watson Lake and Pelly Crossing. Public hearings will continue until June 18. Additional virtual hearings will also be scheduled over the summer.

The commission's final report is set to be released in the fall of 2024.