tephane Dion gets it.
But his ability to communicate it needs work.
Dion was in Whitehorse Friday addressing community and business leaders, his first such visit as federal Liberal leader.
During his 20-minute speech, Dion covered a lot of ground, from seabed mapping to sewage.
He also made a weird jag into stopping youth crime by building more sports facilities.
It was clear he’d done his homework.
For example, he knew the concerns of the luncheon crowd, which was primarily local small-business owners and Liberal politicians.
The worker shortage is “perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Yukon today,” he said during the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event at the Westmark.
“I’ve come to hear from you as to how a Liberal government could help Yukoners.”
But his delivery was often clunky, especially when he deviated from the written notes.
Housing prices and the cost of living is on the rise, so “it’s more difficult to convince the people to come” to the North, he said in halting, heavily accented English.
Dion also heard the Yukon’s tourism industry is under assault because of new US passport regulations and the high Canadian dollar.
And the Conservative assault on the cultural sector is also affecting northerners, he said.
“The Conservatives’ cancelling of the Exhibition Transport Program was another big mistake that a number of Yukoners have complained about.”
Then Dion moved into his northern vision.
“It involves, first and foremost, investing in the people of the North,” he said.
“This means doing everything we can to strengthen vital northern industries like mining and tourism.”
But making the Yukon richer is only part of the plan.
It also must be greener, said Dion.
A Liberal government would combine economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability, he said.
“You can’t build an economy or a nation with part of the population that is destitute, uneducated, unhealthy or living in poverty.”
The Yukon has a “very effective” anti-poverty coalition, which might benefit from the Liberal party’s anti-poverty strategy.
“The goal is, over five years, to decrease poverty by one third in Canada and for children by half,” said Dion.
“And it’s doable.
“We will focus on income support for the people in need — we’ll focus on what you want especially to help the working poor to go over the welfare wall and then to become workers instead of on welfare forever.”
If elected, the Liberals would bring back the Kelowna Accord, he said.
The $5-billion accord was designed to give “the First Nations of Yukon and everywhere in Canada a lot of help for housing, education, health and infrastructure — especially water,” said Dion.
“There’s a big crisis with water.
“This is why we want fair and effective implementation of land claims in the Yukon.”
Dion also touched on the need for better national childcare.
“The childcare program has been cut by a different government,” he said. “And I know many parents in the Yukon are really disappointed about that — we need childcare in this country.”
A Liberal government would start where it left off two years ago, and boost childcare facilities across the country, he said.
Young offenders also need to be addressed, said Dion.
“All these kids you have in the street — young teenagers, if they don’t learn the discipline within the system, they will learn it against the system and we will pay a huge price.”
Dion’s solution — focus on building more sports facilities.
On Friday morning, Dion spoke with children at Whitehorse Elementary.
“I talked to your children about climate change and the environment,” he said.
The next day, he was heading to Bali to the United Nations climate change conference.
“Canada should not say to the world, ‘After you. If you do nothing, I will do nothing — it’s everything or nothing,’” he said.
“Canada should say, ‘We have one of the best universities in the world, one of the strongest economies in the world, a lot of talents and skills, we’ll do our share — do yours.’
“It’s important for people of the world that Canada remain a good citizen of the world facing the worst ecological threat many people are facing.”
Climate change affects the North more than anywhere else in the world, said Dion.
“Here in the Yukon our weather patterns are dramatically changing, the Arctic ice cover is diminishing, spruce bark beetle is invading our forests, our infrastructure is buckling under permafrost, and our species, so necessary for subsistence, are being dramatically affected.
“You of all people need your government behind you on this file.”
Dion’s Liberals are going to help fund the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Cluster.
“We will be making a significant contribution,” said Dion.
The cold climate cluster is a clearinghouse for business, researchers and government to examine sustainable cold-climate technologies.
A researcher associated with the centre is already looking at ways to solve infrastructure problems arising from melting permafrost.
“We will be a strong partner because we need to study what is happening in the North,” said Dion.
“We need to come to solutions on the new challenges with the permafrost that is at risk, with climate change and the best way to do it is be aware it is happening and that means here in the Yukon.”
Dion also tagged Arctic sovereignty as a priority.
If the Conservatives don’t hurry up and finish mapping the seabed, Canada could lose part of its northern territory to other countries, said Dion.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised the North new icebreakers, he added.
But instead he decided to buy patrol boats that can only go through one metre of ice.
Arctic ice is sometimes six metres thick, said Dion.
“We were fighting for sovereignty of our North, partly so we could enforce Canada’s tougher environmental standards,” he said.
“And now we heard the government announce that their ships are going to dump waste food and sewage into the Arctic Ocean and its fragile environment.”
It’s unacceptable, he said.
“We will not dump sewage in your ocean.”
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell is introducing a private member’s bill to try and address this situation, said Dion.
“Larry is speaking about these kind of issues every day in the house — but it’s not the same as being the government.”
It is hard to make changes as opposition, said Dion.
“But what I announced today, I will deliver.”
A Liberal government will ensure the North stays strong and free, he said.
“I have seen on my many trips to the North, that you are survivors under the harshest conditions.
“You can count on me to help you through your struggles.”
“Dion wants to restore Canada to its rightful place as a leader of sustainable development and as a leader in the challenges we face with climate change and global warming,” said Yukon Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, following the luncheon.
“We have been strong supporters in the past of the Kyoto protocol and I am very disappointed Canada has pulled back from that position in recent years under the current government.
“So it is very encouraging to hear these strong words of support that Canada needs to be a leader as a northern country in the challenges we face.”