The many faces of Stephen Harper

Lots of people are upset with Yukon Premier Stephen Harper, along with our young MP, Stephen Harper, and the territory's unelected senator, Stephen Harper.

Lots of people are upset with Yukon Premier Stephen Harper, along with our young MP, Stephen Harper, and the territory’s unelected senator, Stephen Harper.

Hang on – did we get those names right? They easily get muddled, as all three tend to read the same lines, delivered by their boss. Riiight – that guy is Stephen Harper. The premier has a not-infrequently-misspelled Ukrainian-sounding name, if memory serves, while our MP is named like a viking, and our senator is that guy who felt the Senate was a big waste of tax dollars, until he was offered a seat in it. We’re sure their names will come back shortly.

Some left-leaning readers tend to view the prime minister’s name as simply being a particularly nasty swear word. That’s not the intent here. Rather, it’s just to say that our premier, our MP and our senator are all shamelessly spewing the same misleading clap-trap from Ottawa about plans to overhaul Yukon’s environmental review laws. For all intents and purposes on this issue, Yukoners are dealing with the same person: Stephen Harper.

Heck, Premier Darrell Pasloski – we knew his name would come to us – didn’t even bother having his own talking points prepared about this mess. Instead, his Twitter account recently lobbed out a series of posts presented as a rebuttal to myths about the regulatory affair. Thing was, all these talking points were simply copied-and-pasted from the federal government’s own website. The premier repeated many of the same canards in the legislature.

This would be dull enough if the federal government’s statement contained neutral, factual information. But it doesn’t. Instead, it deliberately muddies what’s at stake, and why people are upset.

Pasloski’s handlers clearly understood at some point this had crossed a line, as they eventually took the plagiarized posts down. Perhaps they realized they had signalled a little too baldly what is already obvious in many respects: push come to shove, our premier is incapable of speaking independently on issues like this, beyond the cue cards provided by Ottawa.

The bill that’s stirred up this controversy has already cleared the Senate and is now whizzing through Parliament. To recap, one contentious changes would tighten environmental assessment timelines – raising concerns, in cases, that assessments may be rushed and overlook some details. Other changes would allow the federal minister to dictate policy to the assessment board, and allow the federal minister to download authority to his territorial counterpart. This could call into question the credibility and independence of assessors.

The premier makes it sound as if these contentious changes were discussed over a span of seven years. In fact, the contentious bits were made public only when the bill was tabled in the Senate.

The premier similarly implies that changes come out of a mandated five-year review of Yukon’s environmental assessment regime. Most didn’t. In fact, three-quarters of the changes being proposed – and all the ones that are controversial – were never raised during the five-year review.

And the premier suggests that the public was kept in the loop when he insists that “extensive consultations” took place. In fact, the crucial plans were made behind closed doors, involving only the federal and territorial governments, their buddies in industry, and affected First Nations. The public was kept in the dark.

Some of the other “myths” that the premier sought to debunk, meanwhile, are not actually positions held by anyone, to our knowledge. For instance, he reassures residents that the composition of the assessment board won’t change. It’s news to us that anybody believed that would change.

MP Ryan Leef and Senator Daniel Lang are equally guilty of saying the exact same things, of course. But it’s pretty well understood their jobs involve acting as the prime minister’s mouthpieces when called upon. And it’s worth noting that our MP, who has the most reason to be under the prime minister’s thumb, supports First Nations’ call for parliamentarians to visit the territory to hear residents’ concerns.

The premier, meanwhile, has stuck his neck out the furthest of the three. That’s strange, because if he were simply looking out for his own self-preservation, he could simply shut up about this whole thing and let federal representatives do the talking. It is, after all, a federal initiative. But this puzzle is tidily resolved if you accept the theory that Pasloski is just another spokesman for Stephen Harper.

Pasloski only further reinforces that he’s a speaking, pull-string replica of Stephen Harper with his claim that a “coalition” of NDP and Liberals are conspiring to oppose “all development” in the territory, echoing Harper’s attack on the coalition plans of Stephane Dion and Jack Layton. This clunky comparison is prompted by the plans of Yukon’s opposition parties to make a trip to Ottawa to denounce the federal government’s approach to regulatory reform.

To nobody’s surprise, Stephen Harper’s representatives in the Yukon are not interested in denouncing Stephen Harper, and have declined to partake. The premier is at least right to call Hanson’s suggestion grandstanding, in that it’s ludicrous that Harper would welcome territorial Liberals and New Democrats, who he would surely view as partisan foes.

Would it be too much to ask for a premier who doesn’t seek to publicly feud with the prime minister, nor is willing to simply throw his constituents under the bus when it suits Ottawa’s interests? Say, someone who would have picked up the phone earlier this summer and explained to federal officials that Yukoners need to be kept in the loop about big changes to our regulatory regime? But that would require a leader willing to politely disagree with his federal counterparts from time to time. And when was the last time Pasloski did that?

Yukoners didn’t push for representative government just so that a gormless premier could read off speaking notes prepared in Ottawa. At this rate, we may as well have remained a federal fiefdom and left the commissioner in charge to take Ottawa’s orders.

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