Elaine meets Arnie

Elaine Taylor would prefer to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger than Premier Dennis Fentie. As Yukon's Environment Minister, Taylor met the Hollywood star and governor of California during a trip last week to Los Angeles.

Elaine Taylor would prefer to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger than Premier Dennis Fentie.

As Yukon’s Environment Minister, Taylor met the Hollywood star and governor of California during a trip last week to Los Angeles.

The occasion was the second Governors’ Global Climate Summit, attended by more than 1,200 officials from 70 different jurisdictions.

Besides drawing 14 US governors and a handful of Canadian politicians, the event also brought together representatives from France, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Korea, Senegal and Ukraine.

Attendees signed a joint declaration that vows to curb greenhouse-gas emissions soon.

“The longer we wait to respond, the more difficult and costly it will be,” the declaration states.

National leaders will sign the next big climate change agreement in Copenhagen this December. But local and regional governments will be expected to follow up with the majority of the actions required by the successor to the Kyoto protocol, said Taylor.

Of course, the summit provided Taylor with a chance to toot her horn about the Yukon government’s own plans to curb emissions. And she returned with some new ideas.

Taylor’s excited about harnessing methane gas from landfills, she said.

But she doesn’t know much about the territory’s own gasifier – a special furnace that is designed to be fed wood chips, but could be tweaked to consume garbage – which has languished in the bowels of Yukon College for 21 years.

Money from the federal Building Canada fund would be used to help fix the gasifier, said Taylor. Yet, nowhere in the territory’s list of Building Canada projects is the gasifier mentioned.

In fairness, the gasifier doesn’t fall under Taylor’s jurisdiction. It belongs to the Department of Energy. The department did not allot any money to fix the gasifier in its 2009 budget.

The other green technology that caught Taylor’s fancy has little practical application in the Yukon. It’s tidal power – of limited use here – the Yukon only has a small, isolated stretch of coastline along the Beaufort Sea.

And if this sounds strange, it gets even weirder.

Asked to speak about a controversy that Taylor has long remained silent on – Fentie’s meddling with the Environment Department’s submission to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission – she trotted out some familiar bromides, then made a remarkable claim.

Not only was Taylor never involved with the quashing of a 22-page document that suggested the Peel’s rugged beauty may be worth even more than the coal and uranium that lie beneath the region’s soils, but she claims Fentie never did such a thing, either.

“I’ve never been engaged in any discussion as to what to be forwarded to, or not forwarded to, the planning discussion,” said Taylor. “Nor has the premier.”

This claim is contradicted by an e-mail from a senior department official sent in March, that noted Taylor’s deputy minister, Kelvin Leary, received an “irate call” from Fentie about the department’s Peel submission.

After Fentie’s angry call, the department shelved its 22-page Peel analysis. Instead, it submitted an anemic, four-page letter to the Peel planning commission that contained little technical advice.

Fentie himself does not deny that he meddled with the Environment document, although he prefers to describe his conservation with Leary as nothing more than a “day-to-day call.”

Instead, Fentie said it’s part of the premier’s job to offer policy direction to bureaucracy.

In discussing the Peel controversy, Taylor, like Fentie, also made vague pronouncements about how the government must respect the Umbrella Final Agreement, which serves as a blueprint for the implementation of Yukon’s land-claim deals.

They point to Chapter 11, which spells out how land-use planning should occur. Fentie and Taylor have interpreted this chapter to mean that it’s not the government’s job to help defend the environment.

“We must respect the integrity of the process,” said Taylor.

In other words, it would be meddling to not meddle.

And even if Fentie did meddle, Taylor said that would be fine as well.

“I think it’s appropriate for the premier to be able to articulate the government’s position in land-use planning,” she said.

The planning commission is expected to table its recommendations by late November.

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