Yukon News

Green shoots grow slow

John Thompson Friday August 12, 2011

Yukon News

P4green

The Yukon Green Party has become a little less radical.

In appointing Kristina Calhoun as its leader this week, it dropped its high-minded goal of operating its fledgling party as a two-headed beast, with Calhoun collaborating with Mike Ivens as co-leaders.

Neither was supposed to issue public comments without consulting the other. This, needless to say, proved unwieldy.

So Calhoun, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom, is now the party’s figurehead, and for now, sole candidate.

Ivens has stepped into the background. He has no plans to run as a candidate. Instead, he’ll help with drafting policy and selecting candidates.

The new party, formed in January, has had to adjust its expectations in other ways, too. During its launch, its members announced they had high hopes of running a candidate in most ridings.

Not any more. Now, the plan is to run only a few candidates - the Greens will need at least two to retain their party status.

The Greens currently have just 50 members, although Calhoun hopes to triple that number by election time, and she has a list of more than 200 “contacts” who have expressed interest in the party.

By comparison, the Yukon Party has more than 2,800 members. The NDP and Liberals both have approximately 500 members.

Calhoun sought to clear-up confusion about the territorial Greens during a news conference on Wednesday. But, because the party still lacks a platform, it’s hard to say where it stands on many issues.

It has no proposals to address the territory’s housing shortage - the number-one issue affecting Yukoners, according to this week’s poll by DataPath Systems.

Calhoun wasn’t sure whether the party had any policy on the matter. Apparently not.

“We’re still working on policy,” said Phillipe Leblond, a past federal Green candidate and territorial supporter.

He pointed to Habitat for Humanity as a worthwhile group that develops affordable housing. But it’ll take a lot more than a few low-cost units to unwind the big shortage that now exists.

Calhoun doesn’t want to see denser developments if it means Yukoners lose out on community gardens to grow their own food. But, Leblond interjected, “densification makes sense” to help curb carbon emissions.

Given that the territory receives nearly $1 billion each year from Ottawa - proceeds that make up four-fifths of the Yukon’s revenues - there’s no reason that anyone should be poor, homeless or hungry, said Calhoun. But specific social policies are still to come.

What Green policy does exist focuses on the environment. But this also lacks

specific solutions to Yukon’s big environmental controversies.

The Green Party position on the Peel Watershed is identical to the Liberals and the NDP. It supports the proposed plan to protect four-fifths of the vast swath of northeast Yukon.

Calhoun wants to see more renewable energy. Again, so does everyone else - the trouble is that new hydro projects tend to upset residents, and Yukon Energy’s consultants have found it’s tricky to make wind and solar power viable in the territory.

But Calhoun doesn’t think they’re trying hard enough. “How long have they been doing that?” she asked.

The Greens want the government to perform “triple bottom line accounting,” to put a price on social and environmental damage.

Calhoun isn’t aware of any issues specific to Riverdale North, the riding she hopes to win. She’d prefer to first knock on doors, “to ensure I’m up to date.”

Accusations of vote-splitting are obviously a sore point for Calhoun. During the last federal election, the Greens were accused of siphoning enough left-leaning votes from Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell to allow the Conservatives’ Ryan Leef to win.

Calhoun disputes this. The Greens are neither left nor right, she said.

It’s true that environmentalism transcends traditional party lines, and that the federal Green Party counts among its ranks its share of conservatives.

But the bulk of its votes come from Canadians who would otherwise vote for the New Democrats or Liberals, according to national polling data, said Donna Larsen with Datapath Systems.

That helps explain why the Yukon NDP held a vigorous debate at its recent annual meeting over whether its members should be allowed to hold federal Green memberships. It’s unlikely that the Yukon Party - whose meeting was held behind closed doors - would have had the same discussion.

The Greens represent “balance,” said Calhoun. But that’s not too helpful, when every other party claims to be the same thing.

The Greens would push an alternative to the first-past-the-post style of elections we currently use, to ensure fair representation of all parties.

Notably absent at territorial Green events is John Streicker, who has served as the territory’s well-liked Green candidate for the past two federal elections.

Asked if he’s a member, he said, “I don’t know.” But he’s keeping his distance from the territorial wing, at least until the party announces its platform and candidates.

“I support how they want to improve politics. And there’s a lot of questions that remain as to how that delivers.”

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