Fentie aware of climate change, promises a facility

If re-elected, Premier Dennis Fentie will “get to work” on climate change by building a research “centre of excellence” at…

If re-elected, Premier Dennis Fentie will “get to work” on climate change by building a research “centre of excellence” at Yukon College.

“We have to get to work in a much more scientific, technological and focused approach in dealing with climate change in the North,” said Fentie on Wednesday.

His fix? A facility on the college’s Ayamdigut campus.

It will house students and researchers.

How many? Fentie won’t say.

It will be built with federal, territorial and private investors.

How much will it cost? Fentie won’t say.

Who is the private investor? Fentie won’t say.

Research could include studying ways to mitigate damage to the boreal forest caused by climate change and other adaptation approaches, he noted.

Referencing the massive spruce bark beetle infestation, Fentie said the territory is the logical site for a research facility.

And the territory has roads, giving it an edge over the other northern territories, he added.

“We can be a contributor and do our part on climate change for the global community,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, this is a very important step for Yukon’s approach to climate change.”

But examine Fentie’s proposal closely and you’ll see a disparity between its goals and green rhetoric.

A pamphlet distributed by college officials earlier this year about the cold weather innovation cluster — which the research facility would be a part of — states its goal is “to develop innovative products and services that solve cold-climate challenges for commercial purposes.”

The facility is more about business than it is about curbing pollution.

“Yukon industry, with its expertise and knowledge of conducting business in the North, can effectively expand its business and profitability beyond the Yukon market.”

New techniques for road construction, improved techniques for mine reclamation and adaptations of buildings to changing permafrost conditions are all things that could come out of the centre, according to the pamphlet.

The facility will be built with federal money from the Northern Strategy fund, which totals $40 million over four years.

It is supposed to fund the environment and research projects, in partnership with territorial and private investors, said Fentie.

But Wednesday’s announcement contained no hard costs.

Fentie refused to be pinned down on numbers.

It is a “mistake” to speculate how much the centre would cost because more research has to be done, he said.

“A budget will be forthcoming once all facets of the project have been flushed out,” he said.

“We’re going to invest what it takes.”

A feasibility study on the climate change research facility, compiled by government, industry and academic partners, focused on construction, municipal infrastructure and geotechnical works.

The study was delivered to Fentie in January.

But while it recommended building the facility, nine months went by before the Yukon Party released its climate change strategy booklet on September 5th, and more time elapsed before Wednesday’s announcement.

Asked to explain the lag, Fentie responded, “Why piecemeal it?”

The Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre has been in planning since the beginning of 2004.

The only other innovation facility focused on climate change is in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“We’ve maintained all along that Yukon College is a main tool to building Yukon’s future,” Fentie said.

College officials were contacted for this story, but are forbidden to talk to the media during elections.