An election idea worth borrowing

If there’s ever a time for territorial leaders to present a wish list to Ottawa, it’s during a federal election.

If there’s ever a time for territorial leaders to present a wish list to Ottawa, it’s during a federal election.

Over in the N.W.T., premier Bob McLeod has just done precisely that, with an open letter to all federal parties that spells out that territory’s spending priorities and the support he seeks. It’s a fine idea, and one that Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski should borrow.

Here are some questions that McLeod has posed to the federal party leaders. How would you encourage responsible resource development in our territory? What tax perks will you offer to northern residents to offset our high cost of living?

Will you invest in energy infrastructure – specifically, by helping to connect our electricity grid to the rest of Canada? How about giving another push to finalizing outstanding land-claim agreements?

What will you do to address climate change, which is already impacting the North, and how will you do so without further adding to our already high cost of living? And will you offer a new commitment to help address our shortfall of social housing?

McLeod’s letter explains that the written responses to his questions will help N.W.T. residents decide how to vote. He requests party leaders to provide a written response by a certain date, and promises to post their answers to his government’s website.

You could criticize McLeod’s letter for its internal contradictions – as Chris Windeyer notes in an Edge YK column, the former premier, in effect, asks the feds to both take dramatic action on climate change while also boosting the territory’s oil and gas industry. But at least McLeod is fulfilling what’s understood to be one of the core duties of a member of parliament, which is to cadge for federal cash.

You may notice that all the above questions are equally relevant to the Yukon as the N.W.T. And surely our leaders could think of a few relevant questions of their own.

Of course, the Yukon’s candidates vying to be MP will face similar questions during the run-up to election day. But they’ll be restricted to rattling off their parties existing platforms. Our premier, meanwhile, enjoys a bully pulpit that could be used to catch the attention of party leaders, in the hope of shaking free a few extra goodies from whoever may form the next government.

Some political observers may note one big difference between politics in the N.W.T. and the Yukon: they don’t have territorial political parties, while we do. You could reason that the non-partisan nature of the N.W.T. government makes it easier for its premier to make public requests of this sort, without any suspicion of underlying partisan mischief.

Then again, the Yukon Party has lately insisted that it has absolutely no partisan affiliation with any federal party. Go ahead and have a good laugh. When you’re done wiping the tears from your eyes, we’ll continue.

It’s not exactly a secret that the Yukon Party has tight ties with the federal Conservatives. Heck, Premier Darrell Pasloski once stood as the Conservatives’ candidate for the territory, and he hasn’t been shy about boasting about his cozy relationship with his federal counterparts, while being loathe to criticize them.

Just try to recall one instance when our premier expressed an opinion at odds with the Harper government. Perhaps you could say he did that by joining the other premiers in calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, but he was one of the last premiers to chime in, and only did so after facing criticism for his silence on the issue at home.

There’s something to be said about quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy rather than noisy public posturing. But it’s hard to shake the impression that our premier wouldn’t dare disagree with the prime minister, not just to avoid a potential slight, but because ultimately he sees them both belonging on the same team.

Pasloski has even not-so-subtly cribbed the rhetoric of the federal Conservatives, drubbing the local opposition parties as a “coalition” – even though neither the territorial NDP nor Liberals have ever publicly discussed such an arrangement – and launching overheated attacks on conservation-minded residents, likening them to economic saboteurs. And the premier hasn’t shown much reluctance to attack federal opposition parties, either, as when he recently bashed the Liberal promise to put a price on carbon pollution.

This close alignment has worked in Pasloski’s favour to date, but it raises doubts over how well he would be able to work with a federal government, should the Liberals or NDP win the upcoming election. But, if the premier wants the public to play along with the fiction that he has no allegiance to any federal political party, he could start by trying to write a letter to all parties that’s free of partisan point-scoring.

McLeod’s letter also offers a valuable reminder that public officials are capable of making statements that offer more than the empty gestures and bland platitudes that we’ve become accustomed to in the Yukon. Anyone who has suffered through one of our legislative sittings will be familiar with how government MLAs have been trained to say as little as possible, in the longest possible amount of time. When a minister actually answers a question, it can come as something of a shock.

We’re sure the N.W.T. is no political panacea, but consider for a moment the contrast between McLeod’s letter and some windbaggery recently put to paper by our premier.

In one of the odder announcements this summer, Pasloski thought fit to release his new marching orders to his cabinet in mid-August. This may seem noteworthy, until you notice the letters were dated a month earlier, and that cabinet ministers received new jobs back in January. In other words, our premier waited six months before giving formal direction to his new ministers, and then waited another month for good measure before publicly announcing the move as if it were news.

As for the letters themselves, they include a lot of boilerplate bafflegab, and quite a few priorities that, by the premier’s own admission, have already been accomplished. So we have one premier who is busy telling Ottawa what his territory needs, while another is busy telling the public what he’s already accomplished. Which sort of leadership would you rather have?