Conservative leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier talks northern policy in Whitehorse

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, the first of the 14 leadership hopefuls to visit the Yukon, was in Whitehorse Feb. 19 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier says he would scrap health transfers to the provinces but leave territorial transfers untouched if he were elected prime minister.

Bernier, the first of the 14 leadership hopefuls to visit the Yukon, was in Whitehorse Feb. 19 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. Bernier is the MP for the riding of Beauce in Quebec.

Small government and lower taxes are at the centre of Bernier’s campaign. He wants to cut the federal corporate income tax from 15 to 10 per cent, and to abolish the capital gains tax. He wants to end supply management, the system that allows farmers to negotiate the price of dairy, eggs and poultry.

He also wants to eliminate the federal health transfer to the provinces, and instead transfer tax points. That’s his answer to the ongoing bickering between Ottawa and the provinces about health-care funding.

But on Sunday, he clarified that that wouldn’t apply to the territories, as their tax bases are too small.

“My proposal is for provinces only,” he told reporters. “Here, we have to transfer money without any conditions.”

Bernier said he wants to create a northern policy that would include annual northern tours, similar to former prime minister Stephen Harper’s. In response to a question from Yukon Senator Dan Lang, he said that policy would include commitments to build a new cadet facility in Whitehorse and to establish a Canadian Armed Forces reserve unit in the territory.

But otherwise, he was hazy on the details of his northern strategy.

“I don’t want to build a northern policy in Ottawa. I want to build that with you guys on the ground and that’s why I’m here today,” he said. “I don’t want to impose my views. I want to listen to you.”

He did say he would repeal a federally imposed carbon tax, which drew a smattering of applause from the gathering of roughly 30 people.

Bernier said he will also roll out his First Nations policy in the coming weeks, which will focus on property rights and economic development on reserves.

He said a Bernier government would try to complete land claim agreements with the three remaining unsigned Yukon First Nations.

Bernier also wants to abolish interprovincial trade barriers to ensure free trade across the country. He said there should be no allowances for protectionism, even in small jurisdictions like the Yukon. But he said Yukon contractors should still be able to find work, even if major contracts are awarded to outside companies.

“They will be able to have subcontracts. I’m sure they’re very competent and they will be able to have some subcontracts,” he said. “They know the land, they know the people, and I’m sure they will be able to have a part of these contracts.”

Bernier said the federal government can help promote economic development in the territories by funding programs through the territorial transfer payments.

Recently, Bernier has made headlines for rescinding his support of Bill C-16, which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression.” Though he voted for the bill last October, he has since come out against it.

The Yukon Liberal election platform promised a legislative review “to ensure the Yukon government meets rules and social standards for LGBTQ non-discrimination.” The Yukon NDP have long called for the government to add gender identity and gender expression to the Yukon Human Rights Act.

But Bernier said he doesn’t have an opinion about the issue in the Yukon. “I’m having that debate at the federal level, and I think it’s not a good legislation and we must not pass that,” he said. “But maybe some politicians at the provincial level, they have other views. I cannot impose my views on them.”

After Bernier’s talk, Lang said he was “very impressed with how he’s presented himself.” But he declined to say whether he will come out in support of any of the Conservative leadership candidates.

“What I would like to think is that we will see those candidates that are serious taking the time and the effort to come North,” he said.

Conservative Party member Francine Thivierge, on the other hand, said she was ready to throw her support behind Bernier after seeing him in Whitehorse.

She spoke highly of his experience and his fiscal policies. She also liked that he’s “not awkward.”

“You need somebody that is secure about himself when you go against Trudeau,” she said. “You need to look good and you need to be bilingual.”

Bernier is one of the front-runners in the Conservative leadership race, alongside Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary. Conservatives will elect their leader May 27.

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