Stephen Harper’s man in the Yukon

When my son asked me what a member of Parliament was, I explained that it was a Yukoner we elected to go represent us in the nation's capital. Looks like that was another one Dad got wrong.

When my son asked me what a member of Parliament was, I explained that it was a Yukoner we elected to go represent us in the nation’s capital.

Looks like that was another one Dad got wrong.

Lately, it’s been looking more like our member of Parliament is actually Stephen Harper’s man in the Yukon rather than the other way around.

This really hit home as I thought about the federal government’s decision to cut local surveyor jobs, close the local Canada Revenue Agency Office, and cut public tours of the SS Klondike in Whitehorse and Dredge No. 4 in Dawson.

Especially the last ones. These are flagship tourist attractions. The government has spent literally millions of dollars on them over the years. And politicians as long as I can remember have talked about how important they are for tourism and economic development.

If you download Parks Canada’s strategic plan published this year, you’ll find that they have 4,511 staff and they are engaged in what they describe in classic bureaucratese as 43 different “activities,”“sub-activities,” and “sub-sub-activities.” Out of all this massive empire, it was the tour guides at the SS Klondike who had to take the bullet when budget cuts came.

One suspects that there is no reduction in assistant deputy ministers, policy analysts or the doughnut budget at headquarters in Ottawa.

I happen to have had the privilege to meet Conservative MP Erik Nielsen, NDP MP Audrey McLaughlin and Liberal MP Larry Bagnell and watch them in action. They each had a different style, but I feel I’m on pretty safe ground when I say that none of them would have let these SS Klondike cuts happen without raising a big fuss.

No official in Ottawa wanted to be on Erik Nielsen’s list. Audrey McLaughlin was never shy about making a point. And a lobbyist I know in Ottawa once phoned me in amazement during Larry Bagnell’s time to say that “your MP” had disrupted some important transportation committee meeting on Parliament Hill to grill some startled officials about a problem at the Ross River airport.

So what does our member of Parliament, Ryan Leef, have to say? “I certainly said that I hoped the departments would look at the efficiencies, find out where they could achieve efficiencies in operations or administration, with limited to no effect on the frontline service,” he told the Yukon News back in May. He went on to say that “If we have a legitimate case to be made that puts us in a unique and difficult position that’s above and beyond what other regions in the country are doing to contribute, then I’ll put that case forward and I’ll fight for it.”

Does that sound like a MP fired up to protect our interests against the big machine in Ottawa? Do you think Parks Canada officials are worried about him?

Even more startling was Leef’s reaction to the cuts that closed the Canada Revenue Agency office in Whitehorse. According to a Yukon News article last month, he told Yukoners fighting to keep the office open that they should try to collect 10,000 signatures for a petition. That’s about twice as many people as voted for Leef in the federal election.

It’s all the more galling when you realize that the federal government actually decided to spend more money here hiring former Yukon Party MLA Ted Staffen to be the local political representative of the Conservative minister responsible for the North, Leona Aglukkaq. A local contractor told me the feds have rented new office space on Main Street for the job, and even claimed that the plumber needed a security clearance to do the renovations.

“I assist with issues that arise,” is how Staffen described his position to the Yukon News. “I am not a politician. But this is a political appointment … I’m working for the minister.” He went on to say “it’s the first time we’ve had a tri-sect,” referring to having a Tory-blue federal government, territorial regime, and MP (not to mention an unelected senator to boot).

If the Parks Canada cuts are what the “tri-sect” gets us, I think I’d rather have the SS Klondike tour guides back instead. Or even just one of Erik, Audrey or Larry.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.