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Another day, another wedge issue

Inside Ryan Leef's campaign office, cardboard boxes draped with blue plastic pass for podiums as the Conservative candidate delivers another stump speech. The energetic 37-year-old is trying to spice up his delivery with props.

Inside Ryan Leef’s campaign office, cardboard boxes draped with blue plastic pass for podiums as the Conservative candidate delivers another stump speech.

The energetic 37-year-old is trying to spice up his delivery with props. In one hand he holds the Conservative platform. In the other, the Liberal plan.

“The North means something in this budget,” he said, gesturing to the Conservative plan, “and it’s sorely missed in the Liberal document.”

The Liberal platform refers to the North just twice, Leef asserted, while the Conservative platform includes a “plethora” of northern announcements.

In fact, the Liberal platform refers to the North more than a dozen times. It promises to bring broadband internet to unconnected rural areas, halt oil exploration in Arctic waters, boost northern affordable housing, pay greater heed to the Arctic council and reinstall the ambassador of Arctic Affairs.

And the Conservative’s last budget speech made no mention of the Yukon, or the North.

But during political campaigns, candidates invariably spend much of their time exaggerating the differences between themselves and their opponents. Leef’s wedge issue for Tuesday was the two platforms.

He rattled off a long list of Conservative promises that benefit Yukoners. Among them are plans to extend the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk, offer perks to lure doctors and nurses to the territory and support the Alaska Highway Pipeline project.

And Ottawa has already ponied up $71 million to expand Mayo’s hydroelectric facilities, Leef noted.

Earlier, Yukon’s Liberal MP Larry Bagnell had boasted about how his party would help the North by boosting spending on affordable housing and aboriginal education, among other things. His party plans to spend more than $8 billion on social programs over two years.

In truth, both parties promise voters many similar goodies: money for green-home renovations, tax credits for volunteer firefighters and more help for seniors and students.

The Liberal plan is more lavish. Whether that’s good or bad will likely depend on how quickly you’d like to see Canada’s finances back in the black.

Not that either party’s spending plans are considered realistic by experts.

Conservatives have conveniently found a way to slay the deficit one year early, by 2014-15, although they have released very few details on where this $4 billion in annual savings will come from.

Liberals plan to pay for new social programs by raising corporate taxes to last year’s levels of 16.8 per cent, from 18 per cent. But their projected windfall is far too big, according to tax economist Jack Mintz with the University of Calgary.

Leef couldn’t say where Conservatives will cut operating costs. But he promised that, unlike the Liberal retrenchment that occurred in the mid-1990s, this one would not be done “on the backs of the territories” through reduced transfers. (The Liberals have promised to not cut transfers, either.)

Nor would these cuts affect services used by Yukoners, said Leef.

Transfers to the Yukon are up $55 million this year, to $745 million. But Leef disputed that Yukoners expect a free lunch.

“Yukoners work hard for everything they earn,” he said. “We certainly aren’t getting a free ride. We’re working hard to contribute to the Canadian economy, and we’re contributing to the benefit of our nation.”

Earlier, Leef returned to the Conservative talking-point that the election is “unnecessary.” At $300 million per pop, the four elections over the past seven years total roughly $1.2 billion, said Leef.

“It’s creating instability and uncertainty in government at a time of global economic, environmental and political turmoil.”

Leef’s background as a cagefighter makes him one of the more colourful Conservative candidates this election. The Toronto Star recently published a profile of him.

Leef didn’t appreciate how the newspaper compared his own brush with the law with the past criminal convictions of Premier Dennis Fentie, who spent time in prison for heroin dealing more than three decades ago, and Dawson City’s mayor Peter Jenkins, who was imprisoned after his hotel was caught stealing electricity in the 1970s.

Several years ago, when Leef worked as a parks officer and outfitter, he faced charges for misreporting where he led a thinhorn sheep hunt and for driving an ATV through part of Kluane National Park, where the vehicles are banned.

The ATV charge was dropped because there was no hard proof Leef used the vehicle. Yukon’s Supreme Court eventually found Leef guilty of misreporting where the hunt occurred, but the judge believed Leef made an honest mistake and gave him an absolute discharge.

The Star article states that Leef backed out of an interview without explanation.

“I thought that article was a wonderful piece of fiction,” said Leef.

“My son was in emergency that night. So I make no apologies for not being there for a newspaper that isn’t trying to do anybody any favours.”

Contact John Thompson at