The territory’s representative in the Senate wants Yukoners to know how hard senators work, and exactly what the upper chamber’s role is.
While the red chamber is being rocked by controversy in Ottawa, Dan Lang sat down for a face-to-face interview with the News to explain his position on some key issues and help shed light on where he thinks his house is going.
“We work almost straight through from September to June. I really miss the month of June, especially in the Yukon,” Lang said.
Some of those same senators stand accused of milking Canadians for huge sums of money. Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin have both resigned from the Conservative caucus pending audits into their spending and expense accounts, and Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned in disgrace after it was discovered he gave Duffy more than $90,000 to help the former journalist pay back Canadians for improper expenses he had racked up.
While Lang didn’t discuss the specifics of the Senate spending scandal, he did say that “Canadians need to take a good hard look at the role of the upper chamber, and whether it is doing it.”
“Most Canadians don’t realize how lucky we are. Even with all the flaws that governments have, Canada is what it is because of our political institutions. We need to not lose sight of that,” Lang said.
He explained that it’s the Senate’s job to review government legislation, but he maintained that he and his colleagues do it by leaving politics at the chamber door.
“It’s more non-partisan. We don’t block the government’s platform promises, but it is our job to scrutinize the legislation more carefully,” he said.
One example is the Senate review of the modernization plan for the RCMP. Lang said that the Senate is examining the government’s plan and trying to figure out how best to deal with the pattern of harassment that has plagued the RCMP for years now.
Lang is also the new head of the Senate committee on defence, which is intended to oversee the department that buys Canada’s war machines.
That department has been under a nearly constant cloud of controversy for a number of scandals and spotty decisions since the F-35 fighter procurement scandal reared its head in 2010.
Since then, news has arisen that the Department of Defence intentionally lowballed the cost of the expensive fighter plane, drafted minimum requirements that ensured only the F-35 would qualify, and hid the fact that the fighter might not even stand up to the harsh conditions of Canada’s North.
The department has also faced difficult questions over its decision to buy a Norwegian design for icebreakers (or as the opposition loves to call them, slush-breakers) that may not be strong enough to plow through thick Canadian sea ice.
It’s now Lang’s job to head the oversight of those purchases, and he agreed there are tough questions to be asked about how the Department of Defence buys its equipment.
“That is the right question, about the terms of reference. Is there a fair competitive field out there? It’s a concern, where we’re going on procurement. The government knows that’s a concern and it’s fast moving in the right direction on that,” Lang said.
Another major concern for the Yukon’s senator is Canada’s energy plan – specifically, how we’re going to sell our energy now that the U.S. – our biggest trading partner – is becoming more self-sufficient.
Lang sits on the Senate energy committee. He said Canadians need to get oil out to overseas markets and sell it, otherwise our standard of living will decline.
“We are going to have to find other markets,” he said, adding that if oil profits decline, transfer payments from Ottawa (which make up a large portion of the Yukon’s budget) will also decline, and Yukoners’ standard of living will suffer.
On the Northern Gateway pipeline possibility, Lang said it’s best to wait until the environmental assessments are done before passing judgment. But while some wait, others are looking for alternatives, including a rail line through the Yukon to the Alaskan port of Valdez, which already has the infrastructure necessary to pump tankers full of Alberta oil.
Lang said he wasn’t aware of the plan.
As a territorial politician, Lang was first elected as Yukon MLA in 1974 and served five consecutive terms. During his time, he helped bring party politics to the Yukon, something he says attests to the territory’s success. Having a party system gave the territory more political structure, and it allowed the territorial government to take over more responsibilities from Ottawa.
“Before there were parties, you never knew who was on your side. The night of the long knives was always a possibility. You never knew where your support was,” Lang said.
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