Justin Trudeau’s pick for Liberal leader was in Whitehorse on the weekend to golf and socialize with Liberal supporters.
He was also here to tell anyone who would listen about bolder vision for Canada. It includes a greater role for the North.
“The North is such a big part of the Canadian identity, and it has also been taken for granted for some time,” said Gerard Kennedy in the lobby of the Whitehorse Westmark.
Kennedy squeezed in a two-night stay in Yukon’s capital to meet with Liberal MLAs and MP Larry Bagnell over scrambled eggs. He also socialized with party supporters at the Liberal Invitational Golf Tournament.
He’d been planning to visit the Yukon for quite some time.
“This is my substitute trip,” said the 46-year-old politician. “I actually had quite an elaborate trip laid out with my wife, but it didn’t happen.”
Kennedy arrived Friday and left Sunday.
“It would be nice to have more time,” he said, noting he had to get back to work in Ottawa.
Kennedy’s special adviser to party Leader Stephane Dion.
“He talked about Stephane Dion being a good leader and how much courage he had all through the referendum time,” said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.
Before entering politics, Dion was a vocal critic of Quebec’s sovereignty movement leading up to the 1995 referendum.
He stood up to attacks in 1995 for being a traitor — a federalist Quebecer — and was recruited by Jean Chretien shortly after the referendum failed.
“Dion was probably the reason that we didn’t lose that referendum,” said Bagnell.
After coming in fourth in the leadership race ballots in 2006, Kennedy dropped out and encouraged supporters to shift their support to Dion.
More than 90 per cent of them did.
A ‘new Liberal,’ Kennedy seems to be trying to reform the party.
One of the Liberals’ great tasks is to develop a realistic northern living strategy, he said
“We haven’t heard about the North in a sustained way since Diefenbaker” and the roads-to-resources policy, said Kennedy.
Diefenbaker is credited with launching the construction of the Dempster Highway.
Kennedy has strong ties to the North, himself.
The 46-year old grew up in the northern Manitoban town of The Pas.
Today, his brother Edward’s businesses pepper the map of the North. He’s CEO of retailers North West Company and the Alaskan Commercial Company.
For years, Kennedy had been hearing news from the North through his brother. This visit marks’ his first recon mission.
Liberals want northern involvement.
“It’s not a question of somebody with romantic notions deciding how the North is going to develop,” Kennedy said.
“It’s for northerners to solve themselves.”
A former resident of a small northern town, he says he understands the rest of the country can sometimes interfere in the North in less-than-helpful ways.
The Liberals want to avoid the boom-and-bust cycle in small communities, especially in the North, he stressed.
Canada is one of the few countries without a national electricity grid or consistent pricing for fuels.
Before the nation increases the available energy stock, we should consider getting a handle on what we do have, said Kennedy.
The Liberals are also considering a national housing strategy.
“There’s a big debate in the Liberal party to get back in to the housing game,” he said.
“Canada has to make a shift and if we’re going to be offering people the ability to live in a variety of communities and not just gravitate towards the largest, then we really have to start opening some different approaches.”
The housing and nutrition needs of too many Canadians are not yet being met, added Kennedy, who ran Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank for a decade.
Canada has also been complacent about developing solutions to the environment crisis through technology, he said.
He recently attended a talk by Sweden’s environment minister that detailed relatively benign resource development.
Other countries, including our largest trading partner, the US, have been placing restrictions on environmentally unfriendly products.
If we wait too long to legislate companies into changing their solutions, we won’t be able to sell our products outside our own borders, he said.
“There’s a frontier here that we want to be able to cross. It’s no longer optional.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper only has eyes for icebreakers, he said.
“And there’s a heck of a lot more to the North than ice.”