Bagnell seeks Ottawa’s lost Northern focus

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has shifted Ottawa’s attention, and funding, from the North, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has shifted Ottawa’s attention, and funding, from the North, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

With more than $1 billion in program cuts announced in September — and now social-program workers across the Yukon unsure if their funding has been slashed — Bagnell is planning to use his new position as critic of Northern Affairs within Stephane Dion’s shadow cabinet to retake lost ground.

“The main goal is to get some attention back for the North,” said Bagnell from Ottawa on Monday. “Since the new government’s come in, they’ve cancelled the Northern Strategy and there haven’t been any new programs or attention on the North.”

Each northern territory, including the Yukon, has received a $40-million cheque from Ottawa as part of the Northern Strategy, launched by the former Liberal government.

But the spirit of the program is gone, said Bagnell.

“The Northern Strategy was almost more of a philosophy than a specific item,” he said. “It was a focus of government departments on the North.”

The strategy was supposed to culminate in renewed attention given to people north of 60, as well as a concrete action strategy to address issues specific to the region, he said.

Since Harper has come to power, “It just was totally dropped,” said Bagnell.

The Conservatives have also put progressive justice programs in the Yukon in jeopardy by postponing funding.

“They may or may not be cuts, but we haven’t heard anything,” said Bagnell. “They’ve been sitting in limbo for months.

“We don’t know what they’re (the Conservatives) going to do; they’re not doing anything.”

The federal excise gasoline-tax refund program, which refunds a chunk of federal gasoline taxes to programs, and a northern infrastructure project may also be dropped by Ottawa, said Bagnell.

“We had committed to making them permanent. We’ll have to find out. If they’re not, municipalities in the Yukon will suffer.”

At the territorial Liberal Party’s annual general meeting on Saturday, leader Arthur Mitchell introduced Bagnell as the new critic for Northern Affairs, “and the next minister of Northern Affairs.”

But while the position is a definite step up for the long-time Liberal backbencher, Bagnell isn’t reading too much into the promotion.

“If Mr. Dion becomes prime minister, he’ll choose a cabinet — for various, very complicated reasons — from the members he has elected at the time,” he said.

“There’s no direct connection.”