Today marks the approximate halfway point of Yukon’s territorial election campaign.
And while it’s not hard to improve upon the horrific gong show that is the U.S. presidential election, Yukon’s political parties are due a small amount of credit for conducting themselves more or less as people claim to want them to: sticking to policy proposals and steering clear of personal attacks and mudslinging.
Nowhere is this more true than on the environmental front. All three major parties have rolled out serious, well-intentioned promises. And while none of their platforms is perfect — indeed, all three contain notable flaws — we’re glad to see all three contending parties at least attempting to take environmental issues seriously.
It is true that the Yukon Party has decided to hang its re-election prospects in part on opposing a carbon tax. And it has continuously accused the Liberals and NDP of nefariously wanting to make the cost of everything go up via carbon pricing.
As I’ve written in this space before, this tack is dumb for a couple of reasons: the Yukon Party continues to pretend that carbon taxes can’t be offset with other tax cuts and income transfers. And it still tries to peddle the line that somehow Yukon can worm its way out, even though the federal government has plainly stated that carbon pricing will soon be mandatory.
Still, the Yukon Party has moved far away from the climate change denialism that has tainted large quarters of the political right in North America. Its platform planks, including spending on energy efficient retrofits for government buildings, expanded solar generation and a small network of charging stations for electric vehicles in Whitehorse, are all of themselves good ideas. They’d be far more effective at reducing emissions if they were paired with a carbon tax.
The NDP has tried to swing big on clean energy generation, proposing $50 million over five years for a green energy fund, partly funded by revenues from carbon pricing. The party also wants to team up with First Nation development corporations to grow the fund even to $100 million. Wind, solar, small-scale hydro and geothermal generation all need help to become economical, and as costs for each technology drop, they become more and more viable for the kind of smaller-scale, widely scattered installations that are the likely future of electrical generation.
The NDP has also proposed rebates for electric vehicles. But beyond that, it so far has avoided any major discussions about the two sectors of the economy — home heating and transportation — that are responsible for most of Yukon’s carbon emissions. Future power demand will be a real issue in future years, but right now, we generate 95 per cent of our electricity through hydro.
The Liberals have been a little more vague. Leader Sandy Silver has called for better planning to produce power through renewables, and to partner with Yukon’s First Nations on any future big-ticket energy projects. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the announcement came with few details.
Green-leaning Liberal candidate John Streicker has talked about the need for technology to store solar- or wind-produced power to compensate for times when supply is low. That is a major challenge facing renewable energy, and one that is drawing tons of interest (and money) from venture capital and the scientific community. Researchers appear close to a solution using molten salt or silicon battery systems. These technologies figure to be expensive in the early going and one must wonder if they are the best area for the Yukon government to spend money. But it is part of the renewable energy equation we have not discussed much in Yukon, and the Liberals at least deserve credit for broaching the topic.
So the three potential governing parties have each given voters plenty to think about on environmental issues. Each platform is incomplete, but if the winning party wanted to steal policy from its two rivals, it would be a lot closer to an aggressive, comprehensive climate-change plan.
And of course there is the other, age-old caution. Getting elected to office and doing what you said you’d do are two different things. Regardless of who wins, Yukoners deserve action.
Contact Chris Windeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org