With no clear winner, Yukon's election-night intrigue will linger

·3 min read
Sandy Silver gets to keep this parking space — for now. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)
Sandy Silver gets to keep this parking space — for now. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)

Well, that was interesting.

If you're trying to pull a coherent narrative or storyline out of last night's Yukon election results, good luck.

With the Liberals and Yukon Party tied at eight seats apiece, and the Liberals and NDP tied at 78 votes apiece in the riding of Vuntut Gwitchin, we're still not even sure what the final composition of the 35th Legislative Assembly will be.

So let's try this: Yukon voters opted to reprimand, but not fire, Sandy Silver's Liberal government.

Regardless of what happens in Vuntut Gwitchin, the Liberals will have no fewer than eight seats and will have the chance to form a government. But with both remaining Liberal backbenchers — Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre and Ted Adel in Copperbelt North — losing to Yukon Party challengers, Silver's margin for error is very slim.

Indeed, nobody's really sure what happens next. That was apparent in the subdued election night speeches by both Silver and Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon.

"Until we know the results of [Vuntut Gwitchin], it's kind of a hard speech to be making, really," Silver told a small group of supporters gathered outside his campaign office on Second Ave. in Dawson City.

Dixon used his speech, meanwhile, to quickly head off any questions over the legitimacy of the Liberals getting a chance to keep governing, no matter the eventual result in Vuntut Gwitchin.

"Until we see the results of that tiebreak ... it's really a very difficult situation to determine what the outcome will be," Dixon told reporters. "My understanding is, regardless of the outcome of the tiebreak, Sandy Silver and the Liberal Party will have the first opportunity to form the government."

The Yukon Party could be forgiven for harbouring a grudge against the first-past-the-post system. They captured over 1,300 more votes than the Liberals did — fully 7.2 per cent of the popular vote.

The spread-out nature of that support made it harder to turn it into seats, and most Yukon Party incumbents won re-election by big margins. The Yukon Party could have tried to claim a mandate from that but did not.

But having the current opposition quickly and clearly acknowledge that the Liberals remain in power (at least for now) assures some much-needed political stability in the short term.

We've seen in other countries what happens when politicians refuse to accept election results that were far clearer than Yukon's. Dixon's political science degree came in handy last night.

For NDP Leader Kate White, so clearly disappointed by the results last night, there is a silver (sorry) lining. Whether the New Democrats end up with three seats or two, White can expect to be courted for her party's support in the Legislative Assembly.

The most logical fit is, of course, with the Liberals, with possible common ground on issues like increasing housing supply, action on climate change and aggressive action on the opioid crisis.

It's harder to picture the NDP and Yukon Party working together, but it's not inconceivable. After all, there is likely little appetite among any of the parties for another vote any time soon. Yukon's municipal elections are scheduled for the fall and the Trudeau Liberals could trigger a federal election soon.

"Yukoners have also said that no party would have a majority tonight," White told supporters. "They have clearly told us that what we need to do is work together to get things done. So that's exactly what we're going to do."

Silver and Dixon made similar remarks. And while pledges to work together are often heard on election night, Yukon's political parties have never had greater incentive to actually try.