The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.
Friday, Stephen Harper addressed reporters and Conservative Party loyalists at a posh conference room at the Gold Rush Hotel. At the other end of town, Elizabeth May spoke from the makeshift Green Party headquarters, a converted wooden garage with a black wood stove smoldering away in the corner.
Stopping in Whitehorse to promote her new book, May took the opportunity to unveil her party’s own Arctic strategy and respond to Harper’s $71-million Mayo B announcement.
“It’s a bit of a coincidence that the leader of the Green Party is here on the same day as that other leader,” said May to a small handful of reporters.
“And don’t think you’re not allowed to ask questions,” she added with a smile.
Having returned from a meeting with the Council of Yukon First Nations, May was brimming with stories of how First Nation land treaties have been broken.
“It’s really important to know that modern day treaties aren’t being implemented,” she said.
“Post-residential schools, the rhetoric has improved but not the performance.”
She noted Harper’s recently announced Arctic strategy doesn’t take into account the needs of First Nation people, which contrasts with her approach.
“Harper’s strategy is more focused on resource exploitation and military presence,” she said, adding aboriginal people need more say. One way of doing that is by bolstering their presence on the Arctic Council, an international body comprised of all nations bordering the North.
Canada is not serving aboriginal people well, she said.
How is that, “so much money can be gobbled by lawyers and there not be a better quality of life for people on the ground?” said May, criticizing the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and suggesting it must do better.
And, finally, any Arctic strategy must also address climate change, she said.
As for the Mayo B hydro project, May scoffed at the suggestion Harper would label its federal funding as an “environmental announcement.”
“Can you say it’s an environmental project just because it’s not damaging to the environment?” she said.
You could do a lot more than just put in four megawatts of power with $160 million, added May.
Using money to employ local people to retrofit buildings in Whitehorse to be more energy efficient is one alternative, said May.
“And whether (Yukon Energy Corporation) is to be privatized means there’s a whole lot of questions for citizens to press for more answers on,” she said.
Later, May addressed more than 100 people who packed themselves into the Old Fire Hall to hear her speak.
There’s a crisis in Canadian democracy, said May, citing low voter turnout, poisoned House of Commons committees and the “organized abuse” of politicians during Question Period.
“The politicians actually started barking (like dogs) one day in the House,” she said.
Using a mixture of personal anecdote and humour, May drew on 20 years of experience to paint a picture of a federal system filled with “spin doctors” and “political partisanship.”
With a federal election looming, May unveiled her plans to run as a candidate in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding.
Last year, May ran with little success against Conservative Party incumbent Peter MacKay in her home riding of Central Nova.
“There’s no safe seats for the Green Party, so now I’ve had to become the dreaded parachute candidate,” she said.
The current voting system encourages strategic voting and does not fairly represent what people’s political preferences are, said May.
At the event were Liberal MP Larry Bagnell, Yukon Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell and territorial NDP leadership candidate Elizabeth Hanson as well as Yukon Green Party Leader John Streicker, who introduced May.
“I’m thrilled to see you at a Green Party event … if only Stephen Harper were here it would be a hat trick,” May said to much laughter.
Contact Vivian Belik at email@example.com