Whitehorse Daily Star

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PURSUING THE NOD – Food security is one critical issue facing northern regions, says Justin Lemphers, who is seeking the Yukon’s NDP nomination for October’s federal election.

Potential NDP candidate emerges for fall election

The territory is learning it may have a growing pool to choose from for those who have thrown their hat into the ring to become the Yukon’s next MP.

By Palak Mangat on January 11, 2019

The territory is learning it may have a growing pool to choose from for those who have thrown their hat into the ring to become the Yukon’s next MP.

Whitehorse resident Justin Lemphers told the Star Thursday he hopes to run in October’s federal election under the NDP banner.

He is the only publicly-announced nominee for the party (so has not been declared the actual candidate). He said he is aware of one other person who has sights set on the nomination.

Lemphers is vying to run against longtime Tory Jonas Smith and Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

Lemphers, 43, explained it wasn’t a decision made out of the blue but one he had been mulling for well over a year.

“I didn’t want to make the leap to public politics out of union politics until my kids were of an age where I felt they wouldn’t need as much direct guidance and hands-on support,” he said.

“The timing happens to work out fairly advantageously, should it actually come to pass,” he smiled, recalling he started giving it “serious consideration” during the spring of 2017.

With the youngest of his three sons set to wrap up high school soon, Lemphers will try to make his first foray into office ahead of what is anticipated to be late-October’s decision day.

But the political arena isn’t entirely new to Lemphers: while he hasn’t made a run for office before, Yukoners may be more familiar with his presidential role with the Yukon Federation of Labour (YFL) and involvement with the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU).

The former has been a position that’s enabled him to be the face behind events like the Day of Mourning – and he has no hesitations about criticizing the governments of the day when it comes to worker safety.

“I’m really interested in hearing what people care about, what affects them on a day-to-day basis and what kinds of supports or systems need to be put in place,” he told the Star.

“And then working on one side of the table or another” to make that a reality, he said, is an exciting one – one that he can perhaps trace back to his roots.

“What my family played a role in was helping me develop a social conscience,” said the longtime Yukoner.

He explained his father, Florian, has been involved in projects like petitioning governments from dumping raw sewage into the river, while his mother, Andrea, worked during the early days of the resurrected Humane Society Yukon during the mid-1980s.

“Their willingness to take on issues and stand in the face of adversity is what inspires me,” Lemphers said.

It’s something he hopes to bring to the House of Commons if he becomes the Yukon’s next representative in Ottawa. That person will join ex-Liberal premier Pat Duncan, who was appointed to the Senate in December, in being a northern voice in the capital.

Assessing Bagnell, Lemphers said he has done a “decent job representing Yukon.”

The varying lived experience is what could set him apart from those like the veteran Bagnell, he added.

“It’s one thing to talk about an issue, it’s another to really understand it because you’ve walked through the direct impact it could have on a person’s life.”

Both his professional and personal experiences can play into that – especially as a racially visible male whose parents hail from the U.K. and Sri Lanka, he explained, which have resulted in both good and bad experiences.

When looking at changes coming from the federal government to the territory, Lemphers often questions how he sees himself reflected in them.

“Are there programs that are more difficult to access because of that or systemic designs that make it more difficult for the racially visible to access?”

“While I don’t have that experience being discriminated against by the governance system, I do understand folks that have had challenges with it,” he added.

And while he sighs that he has “experienced racism in this community,” it’s something that’s stuck with him as his interest in politics grew from his time in high school.

“I’ve always been a follower of local politics,” he said, but particularly the last several years have seen him keep a close eye on the national scale as to “who’s moving where, what’s at stake.”

Asked what drew him to hopefully run under the NDP banner, Lemphers said it was just where his ethics and morals best aligned.

“I think an aspect of good governance is being able to consider things that are outside that box (of party allegiance),” he said. “You need to be fiscally responsible, have good social policy, look at responsible development, and have to treat people well.”

Many of the conversations he’s been having so far are with friends and family – “like-minded people” who support him in bringing a fresh perspective to the table.

“People can say I’m too young, people can say I’m too old – and they are entitled to their opinion.

“The only way they’ll know is by judging me on the basis of how I perform.”

Off the top of his head, Lemphers listed food security as one critical issue facing northern regions.

“Every time the (Alaska) highway gets shut down, those grocery stores clear out incredibly quick,” he pointed out.

“You could support Yukoners who have an ability to invest to develop their own sustainable food sources, that might be an option,” he said, which can include bringing in structures throughout the city into the picture.

“While we do have bylaws that limit the height of buildings, if there’s opportunities to green the tops of those buildings with edible greens, that might be a possibility.”

Ultimately, it can boil down to “finding what is feasible in the North, and that’s really going to be the challenge.”

Along with the YEU and YFL, Lemphers has enjoyed stints with the territorial Department of Education and eventually Energy, Mines and Resources after having worked with Northern Analytical Laboratories – all with a Grade 12 education.

“What I do have is a strong work ethic and a lot of life experience,” he said.

“Because I decided to devote myself to my work – because it was a financial necessity to raise my family – I invested in myself and trained myself through whatever work experience I had instead.”

That’s on top of taking advantage of opportunities at Yukon College and other distance education at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

Born in Fort Smith, N.W.T., Lemphers arrived in the Yukon at around the age of seven, and went to Porter Creek and F.H. Collins Secondary Schools.

He has not lived elsewhere since landing here in 1983, but asked if he ever wished he had, Lemphers smiled. “No, not really; I love the life that I’ve had.”

While he encourages his sons to explore beyond the North, he said they now have an opportunity he didn’t at the time.

“I was a low-incomer for a few years, so the thought of leaving the territory would have been prohibitively expensive at the time.”

As for what’s next for him, Lemphers explained he is in campaign mode as he begins canvassing support as a nominee from those on the party’s membership list.

He added that because there is no definitive nomination meeting date set yet, another potential candidate could emerge in the coming months, but that timeline is not yet confirmed.

Should he be the chosen candidate, Lemphers explained there would be a decision about what that means for his standing as the YFL’s president. The federation is aware of his intention as a nominee in the interest of disclosing perceived conflicts of interest.

New Democrat Audrey McLaughlin was the Yukon’s MP between 1987 and 1997. Louise Hardy, also a New Democrat, was the MP from 1997 to 2000, when Bagnell scored his first victory.

Meanwhile, reached by the Star this morning, local lawyer Shaunagh Stikeman, confirmed she does not plan to run in the federal election. In the 2016 territorial election, she was the NDP candidate for Mountainview, currently held by Liberal cabinet minister Jeanie Dendys.

Voters are to head to the polls around Oct. 21.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already ruled out an early election in the spring.

Comments (1)

Up 3 Down 0

Is it just me? on Jan 15, 2019 at 9:24 pm

Is it just me, or does it seem like most NDP supporters are also very pro-union?

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