Fentie optimistic following federal election

A Conservative government shouldn’t make any difference to how Ottawa treats the Yukon, says Premier Dennis Fentie.

A Conservative government shouldn’t make any difference to how Ottawa treats the Yukon, says Premier Dennis Fentie.

From climate change to aboriginal rights to funding agreements, Fentie expects Ottawa to maintain its commitments to the North, he said Tuesday.

“All along, during the campaign, I’ve said that, regardless of who was elected, we in the Yukon will continue to pursue our initiatives and priorities with the new federal government on a positive and constructive plane,” said Fentie from Vancouver, where he is attending the Mineral Exploration Roundup 2006 conference with other Yukon politicians, including First Nations leaders and Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

“The federal Parliament is now certainly situated to have the parties in the House of Commons try to work more co-operatively together, and that’s what Canadians want,” said Fentie.

“We’re not worried whatsoever with the results of the election, in regards to the priorities of the Yukon and the three northern territories.

“But it’s all about now going to work.”

The Conservative minority government will have to broker deals with Canada’s other three major political parties if it wants to pass legislation.

That means that election gambits that have ramifications for Canada’s North, like the Kelowna agreements on aboriginal poverty and the Kyoto protocol, are being reviewed.

“If you remove the campaign partisan rhetoric that has been bandied about and go to the correspondence we’ve had with the Prime minister-elect, Stephen Harper, the Conservative government in Ottawa is very focused on the North and what it means to this country and our role in federation,” said Fentie.

“He put that down in writing, and signed it.”

In a letter sent to the three northern premiers before election day, Harper agreed that “Canada must recognize and acknowledge that there are unique circumstances in the North and that specific measures need to be taken in order to address the needs of northerners.”

But Harper didn’t make any specific promises and stopped short of a firm commitment to the agreements between Ottawa, Canada’s premiers and First Nations drafted in Kelowna, BC, in November that would see a $5.1-billion federal investment against aboriginal poverty.

The Conservatives are “committed to improving the living conditions of aboriginal Canadians” and agree with the targets of the Kelowna agreements, said Harper.

But there’s no financial plan to achieve the objectives, nor has the split between provinces, territories and aboriginal organizations been established, he said.

“In my opinion, these are very important details that should be examined, discussed and agreed upon by all stakeholders involved.”

The $5.1 billion over five years is negotiable, but only if the number goes up, said Fentie.

“Yukon will never go below that, that’s the floor,” he said.

“That’s one of the areas that the Yukon will be extremely diligent on and press Mr. Harper and his cabinet to deliver.

“We have to resolve these issues for aboriginal Canadians.”

Ottawa also has three outstanding land claim agreements to negotiate in the Yukon, added Fentie.

Ottawa’s commitment to climate change could also suffer under a Conservative government.

The Conservative Party — and its predecessor, the Canadian Alliance — long campaigned against the Kyoto Protocol.

The Liberals “sign ambitious international treaties and send money to foreign governments for hot air credits, but can’t seem to get anything done to help people here at home,” according to the Conservative platform.

The Conservatives would implement a “made-in-Canada” plan targeting emissions with a Clean Air Act, says the platform.

Fentie agreed that the former Liberal government took a sluggish approach to curbing greenhouse gas emissions despite having signed Kyoto.

“Even though Canada said they supported Kyoto, said they were going to do what was required under Kyoto, we, in fact, increased emissions that contribute to climate change and global warming,” he said.

“I want to get a better feel for what the new government’s approach is going to be.”

During the campaign, the Conservatives promised to cut taxes and simultaneously “strengthen” social programs.

So they’ll be looking to streamline government, which could mean a reduced mandate for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

But within the territorial jurisdiction the Yukon expects the Conservative government to live up to the commitment to a comprehensive northern strategy that includes a climate change plan, Arctic sovereignty, economic development and community well-being, said Fentie.

“I’m very much looking forward to it, because there are a number of things on the table that we feel we can begin advancing, given the work done to date,” he said.

“Our intention is to move quickly with the federal government once a cabinet is in place and continue the work that we have ongoing.”

Jim Prentice, MP for Calgary Centre-North, was the Conservatives’ Indian and Northern Affairs critic, and could become the next minister.

Harper is expected to choose his cabinet sometime in February.