What the Trudeau win means for Yukon politics

In contrast to most election platforms, more people probably downloaded Justin Trudeau's "New Plan for a Strong Middle Class" after the election than during the campaign. 

In contrast to most election platforms, more people probably downloaded Justin Trudeau’s “New Plan for a Strong Middle Class” after the election than during the campaign. On the day it was released, few thought Trudeau would win a majority.

With the territorial election less than a year away, our politicians will be trying to figure out what they can learn from the federal running of the reptiles.

One thing is tone and ambition. Like Obama and his “Yes we can” mantra, the Liberals tried to run a “sunnier” campaign. With the global financial crisis in the rear-view mirror, Canadians and Yukoners seem to be looking for more than steady-as-she-goes economic stewardship. Expect your politicians to be smiling more and talking about ambitious visions to make the Yukon the best place in Canada to find a job, raise a family or start a business.

There may still be plenty of nastiness, but delivered not by leaders but by their minions door to door and in ads.

All the parties will be thinking about strategic voting, which played such a big role in the Liberal victory. The Yukon Party will be doing its best to avoid provoking anything like the Anybody-But-Harper animus, while the NDP and Liberals will be trying to position themselves as the main alternative. NDP activists will be trying to turn the tables on the Liberals territorially, reminding everyone that they have six seats today while the Liberals only have one.

Then there’s the platform. Interestingly, Trudeau’s platform made successful forays into the traditional policy territory of his rivals. He promised to run deficits, which turned out to be a more “left-wing” position than the NDP. Meanwhile he out-Harpered the master with bigger childcare cheques and tax cuts for the middle class.

So, what would a Yukon political party do if it wanted to steal Trudeau’s platform? Let’s look at its five chapters and see.

“Growth for the Middle Class.” Nothing could be simpler for Yukon politicians than to promise to match Trudeau’s Canada Child Benefit and lower tax rates. And since Trudeau is promising major new spending on affordable housing, infrastructure and green communities, it would be easy for Yukon politicians to promise to help spend the federal money on things like renewable energy and back-up fibre-optic links.

“Fair and Open Government.” Like Trudeau, you could promise that this will be the last first-past-the-post election and that an electoral reform bill will be introduced within 18 months, after a review body makes a recommendation about ranked ballots, proportional representation and other questions.

Trudeau promised to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer truly independent. Yukon politicians could simply promise to create the position in our system. If they wanted to go further, they could promise to reform territorial campaign finance, set up functional legislative committees on important topics and reform access-to-information rules.

“Clean Environment and a Strong Economy.” This chapter is trickier to copy, since things will depend how the Paris climate-change conference and subsequent federal-provincial negotiations go. A positively toned platform will promise to work closely with the federal government and First Nations while addressing the critical issue of climate change. This will be code for playing along in public while trying desperately behind the scenes to get northern exemptions or compensation for any policy changes that cause the price of gasoline or home heating fuel to go up for Yukoners.

The last two chapters are “A Strong Canada” and “Security and Opportunity.” Unless territorial leaders are planning a surprise invasion of Skagway or their own trade deal with China, these chapters will be less relevant for the Yukon election.

However Yukon politicians will have to do some thinking of their own on Yukon-specific topics such as relations with Yukon First Nations and areas of primary territorial responsibility like health and education.

Nonetheless, on First Nations relations they can steal a few ideas from how Trudeau plans to deal with the provinces. He promised to take the provincial leaders to Paris for the climate change conference, and to meet within 90 days to work with them to “establish a pan-Canadian framework for combatting climate change.” He took a similar approach on health, pointing out that it has been more than a decade since the last time a prime minister met with the premiers on health. He promised to “restart the conversation.”

Such promises can be dangerous since the provinces may not do what Trudeau wants, and may simply coalesce to demand more money with fewer strings from Ottawa. But these promises show voters that you are willing to collaborate.

One additional advantage of promising things like summits and roundtables is that they let you put off making precise commitments on important but complicated and painful topics with no easy answers.

For this reason, I won’t be surprised if one of the territorial parties calls for a Yukon summit with First Nations and other stakeholders on education. It is a vitally important field and a pain point for Yukon students, parents and employers. But it’s a fiendishly complex field where a couple of glib bullets in a platform can either be useless, needlessly provocative or both.

On the other hand, a policy of saying education is important while letting the Department of Education do its usual thing won’t work either. Voters will simply throw your platform out of the outhouse in disgust and go back to their handy copy of The Ultimate Bathroom Joke Book.

That’s the policy out of the way. Now the campaign teams can get started on the tough questions, like choosing the right font and staged photos for their platform.

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 this year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist. You can follow him on Channel 9’s Yukonomist show.

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