Running in the centre a tightrope walk for Liberals

The political strategies of the three main parties are starting to emerge from the electoral fog.

The political strategies of the three main parties are starting to emerge from the electoral fog.

The NDP seems to be running a classic progressive campaign, combined with some appeals to centrist voters. Their announcements of, for example, free Yukon College tuition for first-year students and a $50-million green energy investment fund were well-packaged and broadly appealing.

The Yukon Party also seems to be running a classic centre-right campaign, with the addition of the carbon tax as a wedge issue to differentiate themselves from the Liberals and NDP. Many of their announcements are clearly targeting centrist voters, such as funding to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, new daycare spaces in Whitehorse and the communities, greenhouse-gas reducing retrofits for schools and the outdoor sports complex (this time on Yukon government land so Whitehorse City Council can’t block it).

The question for these two parties is if they can add enough centrist voters to their base to win the election. The Liberals will criticize them for being too far to the left or right.

The Liberals, meanwhile, appear to be taking a riskier strategy by attempting to repeat the “double outflanking” strategy that their federal cousins executed so successfully at a national level. If you’ll recall, the federal Liberals poached Tory voters with tax cuts and infrastructure investment while simultaneously pulling progressive votes with promises on climate change and running a budget deficit.

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver tried to emulate Justin Trudeau with announcements on both the business and environmental sides. The Liberals’ push into blue territory included tax cuts for businesses and reinvigorating the Tony Penikett-era Yukon Development Corporation (YDC), giving it $10 million and charging it with investing in non-resource sector businesses. They broke in the green direction by talking about their carbon tax policy, emphasizing their opposition to fracked oil and gas projects (though the NDP argues the Liberal promise of a moratorium on fracking doesn’t go far enough), and promising to change the Yukon’s independent power production policy to exclude electricity generated by natural gas.

When it works, the double outflanking strategy can be devastatingly effective. But it’s not easy. Your policies need to be carefully crafted, and you need to weave between any contradictions in them with the flair of Wayne Gretzky dancing through the Maple Leafs’ defence.

Gretzky always made this look easy on the highlight reels. But most people who tried it ended up squashed between big blue jerseys.

The Liberals’ policy choices for the double outflank leave a couple of flanks exposed, which I expect the other parties will attack in the coming days.

The first is the carbon tax, which everybody in the Yukon seems to have heard about. I’m sure opposition-research analysts in the other parties are busy calculating how much extra gas, food or plane tickets to Vancouver will be if a carbon tax is implemented.

The second is YDC. Shakir Alwarid, the original YDC president back when Tony Penikett was premier, told the News the corporation needs to be cautious about making bad investments. Younger voters may not remember Yukon government investing fiascos such as the Watson Lake sawmill, the loan to Totem Oil to purchase a fuel terminal in Haines and other incidents involving loans to golf courses and hotels. Expect the other parties to jump on this, and raise the issue of whether you want government officials negotiating business deals with your money instead of sticking to their knitting on highways, schools and hospitals.

Compared to YDC’s early days, there is also a new complication to YDC having an investment mandate. Today, First Nations development corporations have tens of millions in investible assets. Several First Nations business executives have told me they have more money to invest than good Yukon business ideas to invest in. Now they would be, in effect, competing with YDC on quality investment opportunities.

But perhaps the Liberals’ biggest exposure is banning natural gas from the independent power production policy. This may seem obscure, but has already provoked a lot of chatter in the mining industry.

The independent power production policy allows you to raise some money, build an electricity generating plant of some kind, and sell power to the grid. It’s meant to be a way to attract investment in electricity generation, while also reducing Yukon Energy’s near-monopoly position and creating local jobs and business opportunities.

The Liberals’ ban on natural gas seems to include Yukon natural gas too, even non-fracked or so-called conventional gas. The Yukon oil and gas industry is already struggling, and banning independent Yukon electricity producers from using conventional Yukon natural gas will be criticized as throwing an anvil to a drowning man.

Furthermore, this could have big unforeseen effects on the mining industry. Large mines require large electricity plants. Often these would have surplus backup capacity or the power plant is expected to last longer than the mine. The opportunity to sell this extra power to the grid would be a multi-million dollar part of the business case, which could be a lot less viable if the Liberals’ plan is implemented.

Then there’s the problem that natural gas, although widely loathed, may be the cheapest way to generate electricity even after a modest carbon tax goes in. So if banned from the independent power production sector, we may be locked into a future where new sources of power added to the grid are costly. This will push up electricity prices, a phenomenon we’ve seen from the green energy plans in places like Ontario.

You should expect the other parties to tell you the Liberal plan will result in fewer mines, fewer oil and gas jobs, fewer business investment opportunities for First Nations development corporations and higher electricity prices. The Liberals, on the other hand, will counter that they are acting on climate change and supporting business with lower taxes.

The parties have made their plays. We’ll see who ends up in the highlight reel.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won last year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist. You can watch his election interviews with all four party leaders on the Northwestel Community Channel website. Full disclosure: Keith is a member of the Yukon Liberal Party. He is not involved in their campaign.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read