The Yukon Legislative Assembly is the current name of the legislative arm of the Yukon Government. Previously the Legislative Assembly was called the Council of the Yukon Territory, established by the Yukon Act in 1898 to provide advice to the Commissioner of the Yukon. Members initially were appointed by the federal government to legislate and administer all matters in the territory during the chaotic conditions of the Klondike Gold Rush. Citizens advocated strongly for representative government resulting in a partially elected Council and finally the first wholly elected ten-member Council in 1909.
Subsequent changes to the form and functions of the Council reflected the many challenges and developments in the history of the territory and its people. In the early years the right to vote and to run for election was restricted to non-aboriginal male British subjects over the age of twenty-one. Non-aboriginal women were granted those rights in 1919. Aboriginal people were not eligible to vote or run for election until 1961. The first woman was elected in 1967 and the first aboriginal members in 1978.
The number of members fluctuated with changing economic and political conditions through the years. The federal government reduced the Council to three members in 1919 owing to the decline of the territory’s population and stringent economic conditions following World War I. Council membership increased in the post World War II period as the population and economy of the territory grew. Five Councillors were elected in 1952, with further increases in 1961 to seven, and again in 1974 to twelve, in 1978 to sixteen, in 1992 to seventeen, in 2002 to eighteen and to nineteen seats in 2011.
In 1953 the federal government moved the territorial capital to Whitehorse. The Council Chambers moved from the Territorial Administration Building in Dawson City to the old Post Office in Whitehorse, then to two different chambers in the federal building, and in 1976 to the current chamber in the Yukon Government Administration Building.
The period after 1960 brought many new responsibilities and powers for the Council. Some members advocated for full responsible government and provincial status during these years. The Yukon Act was amended in 1960 to bring into being an Advisory Committee on Finance, consisting of three members of the Council. The Commissioner was to consult the Committee, which first met in 1962, in the preparation of the budget.
In 1968 Commissioner James Smith created the Budget Programming Committee which included the Councillors from the Advisory Committee on Finance, two Assistant Commissioners and the Territorial Treasurer. This Committee now had the responsibility of preparing the budget.
In 1970, pursuant to a directive of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, an Executive Committee was created consisting of the Commissioner, two Assistant Commissioners and two members of the Council. The Executive Committee, referred to in those years as the Ex-Comm, has been described as the “embryo” of the current Cabinet. The Budget Programming Committee was transferred into an agency of the Executive Committee and given the title Sub-Committee of Finance.
In 1974 the Council of the Yukon Territory assumed a new name, the Yukon Legislative Assembly, and after 1978 candidates were elected as members of political parties.
The federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Jake Epp, issued a letter in 1979 instructing the Commissioner to assume roles and responsibilities analogous to a provincial Lieutenant Governor. The letter granted the leader of the majority party in the Yukon Legislative Assembly the right to assume the title of Premier and to form the Executive Council with elected members appointed to serve as Cabinet Ministers.
Today the Yukon Government works together with First Nations governments and the Government of Canada to administer various regulations, programs and services affecting all Yukon citizens, including management of heritage, wildlife, health and education.