Yukon Nuggets

1987 Yukon Nuggets

Audrey McLaughlin


When Audrey McLaughlin loaded her pickup truck and headed west from Ontario in 1979, she could not have imagined the roller-coaster ride that in ten years would take her into Canadian history book.

Ontario-born Audrey Brown married a mink rancher, Don McLaughlin, when she was just 18. Soon she found herself living in an old farm house with two kids and hundreds of mink to look after. She left the relationship in 1972 and moved to Toronto to become the executive director of the city's Canadian Mental Health Association.

By 1979, she was once again ready for change. The call of the mountains beckoned and she drove the Alaska Highway in her new maroon half-ton pickup. In Whitehorse, she started a consulting business - working on projects such as child welfare legislation and conducting research on land claims and aboriginal self-government.

By 1987, the political landscape in the Yukon was undergoing dramatic change as Erik Nielsen's 30-year career, as the Conservative member of parliament, ended.

The door was now open to new faces with new ideas. Audrey was recruited to run for the NDP nomination in the coming by-election.

On the third ballot at the NDP's Yukon party convention, McLaughlin surprised everyone with a victory over favourite son, Maurice Byblow.

Until then, her only political experience, apart from 17 years of working behind the scenes for the NDP, was to run for Whitehorse city council. She lost.

In the federal by-election of 1987, she beat the Liberal candidate, former Mayor Don Branigan, by 332 votes and was on her way to Ottawa.

During her first two years in office, McLaughlin served as the NDP critic for Northern Development, Tourism, the Constitution and Revenue Canada. In 1988, she became chair of the party caucus.

Then, after just two years as a federal MP, she ran for the leadership of the party, after Ed Broadbent resigned. To everyone's surprise, she beat Dave Barrett, the former Premier of B.C., on the fourth ballot. Audrey McLaughlin entered the history books on that day in December of 1989, as the first female leader of a national political party.

Some views she held strongly, and she was not afraid to go against her party's official position. She opposed the proposed Meech Lake constitutional accord because - she said - it would forever prevent the Yukon from becoming a province. The Meech Lake accord died.

In the 1993 federal election, she retained the Yukon riding, but the NDP lost its official party status in the House of Commons. In April 1994, she stepped down as party leader, but remained interim leader until her successor, Alexa McDonough, was chosen at the NDP convention in Ottawa in 1995.

McLaughlin remained a member of parliament until 1997. After her retirement, she served as President of the Socialist International Women and was appointed special representive for the Government of Yukon on circumpolar affairs.

From her office in the country's only log skyscraper, the Ontario native, who chose the Yukon as her home, has made a significant mark on the Canadian political landscape.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.