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Federal candidates weigh-in on environmental issues in the Yukon

Environmental organizations layout issues they think should be addressed by the next MP
A car passes election campaign billboards at the corner of Lewes Boulevard and Hospital Road in Whitehorse on Sept. 26. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Protecting the environment while giving the green light to extractive industries is a delicate balance in the Yukon and across the country — at best. Never totally immune from opposition and court challenges, the planet continues to warm all the while.

The News reached out environmental groups in order to understand the issues they want addressed after ballots are counted this October and a new federal government is formed.

Chris Rider, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon said there should be more diplomatic work with the U.S. government in order to protect the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd in Alaska.

“I’d like to see them potentially consider legal options. I’d like to see them continue to focus on diplomatic opportunities,” Rider said.

Awareness-building of the issue should happen across the country, he added.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to take the most aggressive stance on development in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), offering up leases to the entire oil and gas program area, parts of which are used by the herd to rear its young.

Jonas Smith, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate, said he supports protecting the refuge, mentioning the bi-lateral treaty signed in 1987 that was struck in order to conserve the habitat of the herd.

His support is binary. Smith is a proponent of oil and gas development in Eagle Plains.

“It comes down to give and take. We can protect the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, but there’s an opportunity here to develop a local resource and, in the process of doing that, reduce our diesel consumption considerably.”

Justin Lemphers, the NDP’s candidate, said he would pull levers available to protect the herd’s habitat in the Yukon while bolstering relations with the U.S.

“We will lobby to hold the United States accountable to its own laws,” he said in a written statement. “Our efforts can include raising awareness and drawing international attention to the dangers posed to the Porcupine caribou herd.”

Larry Bagnell, who’s running for the Liberal Party, said in a written statement that he would continue his work to help protect the herd.

He’s assisted the Gwich’in for decades, he said.

“In the early 80s, the House of Commons would not pay for MP travel to the United States, so I would join the Gwitchin [sic] in Washington (at my own expense) to help in their lobbying efforts. I also arranged to have David Suzuki and Elizabeth May, when she was head of the Sierra Club, and other environmental leaders to meet Prime Minister Paul Martin at 24 Sussex Drive, to discuss protecting ANWR.”

Lenore Morris, candidate for the Green Party, said in a written statement that she would keep up the fight against development in ANWR and support Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, which has been leading the charge on this side of the border.

“Until the value of the ANWR is recognized by the United States Government, we need to keep up the fight,” she said.

Joseph Zelezny, candidate for the Peoples Party of Canada, said he would work with federal counterparts and Yukon First Nations in order to ensure “the concerns of Yukoners regarding any environmental or wildlife cross-boundary impacts are known and advocated for to ensure good relationships and practical solutions to overcoming challenging issues.”

On Aug. 22, the final land use plan of the Peel watershed was signed, the vast majority of it off-limits to industrial development. It took 15 years to get there.

Rider said he wants to see these processes expedited.

Bagnell said as much as he would like to see the process move faster, at the end of the day, Yukoners decide whether enough consultation and planning has been done.

Smith said quickening this “is the wrong approach.”

“I think we need to get this right, and, frankly, I think we’re still a ways away from getting things right. We’ve seen the Peel go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, so we’ve got some direction of what future processes are gonna look like. Right now, you have the mineral exploration industry being told, ‘Too bad, so sad, and your legal tenure is all for naught.’”

Lemphers said he would look into providing more support and resources for land use processes.

“We are concerned that rushing the planning process, may give well-funded lobby groups an unfair advantage. Ultimately, we support the thoughtful development of land use plans that properly reflect the needs of all users and is acceptable to all.”

Morris said that land-use planning should be expedited in order to reduce disputes between interested parties, that it can be done without rushing things if governments are properly resourced.

“All Yukoners want an effective, expeditious planning process,” she said.

Zelezny said takes a similar tack to Smith.

“Rushing anything typically yields undesirable results. More specific information would be needed to allow for better analysis and response.”

Davon Callander, outreach and communications manager with the Yukon Conservation Society, said investments in renewable energy should mirror or surpass money earmarked for the fossil fuel industry.

Lemphers said he would increase funding for renewable energy while rolling back investments in fossil fuels. He said $15 billion, under the party’s Power to Change plan, would be spent over four years to help with this.

Projects like the solar farm in Old Crow and new, Indigenous-led initiatives will be supported, he said, and carbon pricing will remain intact.

Bagnell said subsidies for fossil fuels are being eliminated. Eventually, he continued, renewable energy will supersede them.

Bagnell pointed out various projects the Liberals have helped hook for the Yukon, including windmills in Kluane First Nation, the solar project in Old Crow and a $20 million battery for Whitehorse dam, said to increase storage capacity.

Smith said that he plans to ramp up the production of hydro energy and disperse smaller plants across the territory.

He called this his “number one priority.”

“I think that’s the single largest thing that Yukoners can do to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said, adding that projects could be a boon economically for First Nations.

Morris said she, along with her party, support bolstered funding that matches or goes beyond current investments in fossil fuels.

While the majority of Yukon’s power comes from hydro, she continued, a significant portion, too, comes from petroleum products and liquefied natural gas.

“In the Yukon the transportation sector accounts for 62 per cent of greenhouse gas emission,” Morris said. “That’s the sector that needs to be transformed to electric power. And that electric power needs to come from renewable sources.”

Zelezny said the PPC would axe Canada’s obligations under the Paris Accord and eliminate the carbon tax system, among other things, in order to “let private players develop profitable and efficient alternatives through free market competition so that the best ideas may win.”

Contact Julien Gignac at