Three Yukon Party MLAs have thrown their weight behind Erin O’Toole and his bid for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. The candidate unveiled his northern policy last Wednesday.
Interim leader Stacey Hassard, Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko and Copperbelt South MLA Scott Kent have come out in support of O’Toole.
The Durham, Ont. MP is a former minister of Veterans Affairs under prime minister Stephen Harper.
“Erin has put forward a vision of the North to grow the economy, create jobs for the people who live here, and ensure Northerners are full partners in Canada,” Hassard said in a statement.
“I believe Erin is the candidate that has the best opportunity to beat (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau in 2019.”
On its face, O’Toole’s policy is heavy on resource development and light on combating climate change, the impacts of which are especially acute in the North.
Predictably, O’Toole says he would nix the national carbon tax if elected, and support “clean energy” initiatives to help reduce diesel dependancy in northern communities.
He says he would scrap the ban on new Arctic drilling projects, unless northerners oppose this move.
The ban on new off-shore oil and gas leases in Arctic waters came down in December 2016 in a cross-border action by Canada and the United States.
The premiers of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut decried the ban, saying the unilateral decision by Ottawa was incongruous with their devolution processes, and that they weren’t meaningfully consulted.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver told CKRW radio in January that he agreed the territories were not adequately consulted.
Canada’s ban will be up for review in five years, but in the U.S., former president Barack Obama invoked a 1953 law to ensure restrictions on Arctic drilling are exceedingly difficult to peel back.
Considering the Yukon’s lengthy border with Alaska, O’Toole says he would include the territory in “all trade negotiations” with the U.S.
He also promises to invest in northern infrastructure, specifically, roads to expand the mining industry in the Yukon, mobile and internet infrastructure, and upgrades to the Robert Campbell Highway.
O’Toole says he would push the U.S. to pick up contributing to maintenance of the Shakwak portion of the Alaska Highway.
Under the 1977 Shakwak Agreement, the U.S. is responsible for repairs and upgrades to the stretches of highway between Haines, Alaska and Haines Junction, and between Haines Junction and the border crossing near Beaver Creek.
But the U.S. stopped paying its share in 2012 and hasn’t earmarked any money for the road that connects mainland Alaska to the panhandle and the southern leg of the Alaska Highway.
Around $1.5 billion has been spent on maintaing the Alaska Highway system, with about three quarters coming from Canada and the Yukon.
O’Toole promises to ensure predictable Territorial Formula Financing payments using a base-plus-per-capita funding model.
He also says he would strengthen eco-tourism to national parks in the territories.
“I have a vision for a stronger North that doesn’t just stand on its own two feet, but drives the Canadian economy,” O’Toole said in a statement on his northern policy.
“Our true North can only be strong and free when it is respected and encouraged to chart its own future.”
A former Royal Canadian Air Force captain, O’Toole’s vision for the North is well-stocked with defence proposals.
Among them is a plan to re-establish the Yukon-based reserve force and to create a northern drone unit in the air force that would run pilot programs in the territories.
“Russia and other nations lay claim to vast portions of our Arctic region and Canada’s inability to constantly maintain and exert our sovereignty across these vast regions is an ongoing problem,” says O’Toole on his website.
“We owe it to our northern population to ensure that Canada is present across its land and seas.”
Istchenko, a Canadian Ranger himself, said in a statement he was pleased with O’Toole’s military commitments.
“Not only does Erin O’Toole understand first hand the hard work our Forces do on our behalf everyday, he has shown a clear commitment to support them,” he said.
On his website, O’Toole notes that Trudeau skipped out on last year’s Operation Nanook, a pan-territorial military exercise that Harper attended in the past.
Of the 14 Conservative leadership contenders, O’Toole is the one with the most detailed northern policy.
However, he has yet to visit the Yukon during the leadership campaign.
Only Maxime Bernier and Lisa Raitt – who has been endorsed by former Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski (see Tuesday’s Star) – have made that trip thus far.
When Bernier was in Whitehorse in February, he made gestures toward a plan for the North.
His vision included maintaining key federal transfers to the territories, such as TFF and the health transfer, despite wanting to eliminate similar equalization payments to the provinces.
The Beauce, Que. MP has the support of former Yukon Conservative MP Ryan Leef.
O’Toole points out that the prime minister has no northerners in his cabinet.
Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo previously served as minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard under Trudeau, but stepped down after the breakdown of a relationship with a young female staffer.
“Justin Trudeau has turned his back on northern Canada,” says O’Toole.
The party will choose Harper’s successor in May.