Yukon’s four political parties met to discuss mining, tourism, local businesses and the economy at a forum at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse on Thursday.
Yukon Party Leader Darrell Pasloski, NDP Leader Liz Hanson, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and Green Party candidate Kristina Calhoun spoke at the forum, which was attended by more than 100 people.
The candidates were first asked how they would avoid a double carbon tax on goods being shipped up from B.C., where there is already a tax, if a price on carbon is implemented in the territory.
The three major party leaders stuck to their well-rehearsed talking points on the issue, with Pasloski saying the Yukon Party will continue to fight a tax, Silver promising to return all the revenue to Yukoners, and Hanson saying the Yukon needs to work with Ottawa instead of just saying “no.”
Calhoun gave a more nuanced answer, suggesting that double taxation is not a major issue, in part because border carbon adjustments can be applied to avoid taxing imports twice.
“That worry is not as big of a worry as some people might think it is,” she said.
On several issues, the parties seemed to be in agreement. The three main leaders said they would pave the Dawson City airport runway, though they wouldn’t commit to a timeline, and all four candidates agreed to improve procurement practices to help local companies win government contracts. They also agreed to permanent funding for the Yukon Now tourism marketing campaign.
“We’re very proud to have committed to what is now an award-winning program,” Pasloski said.
Yukon Chamber of Commerce president Peter Turner said he was pleased that all the candidates recognized the need to diversify Yukon’s economy, but added that “we were a little short on actual solutions.”
He said he was “disconcerted” by an answer Hanson gave to a question about connectivity in Yukon communities. The NDP leader questioned why the Yukon Party has decided to partner with Northwestel to build a redundant fibre-optic line up the Dempster Highway, instead of putting the project out to tender.
“The NDP government will build a second fibre-optic line through a competitive bidding process,” she said.
Turner said he would be worried about going “back to square one” on the project.
He said the existing project “is a solution that at least, if it doesn’t give us competition, it at least gives us internet redundancy, which is the more critical problem for the Yukon business community.”
The Liberals and the Yukon Party both say they will build the line as planned.
The candidates were also asked whether they would lobby the federal government to create a northern infrastructure investment bank to promote direct investment in Yukon’s flagging mining industry.
None of the parties would commit to the bank. Silver said the Liberals “don’t have a position on the northern industrial investment bank,” but would consider the idea in partnership with First Nations governments.
Yukon Chamber of Mines executive director Samson Hartland, who has championed the idea of an infrastructure bank, said he wasn’t necessarily looking for a firm commitment.
“What was interesting to us was everyone’s very strong working knowledge of what we were asking about,” he said. “We understand that it’s an incredibly complex and significant question to ask.”
Through the evening, it was Calhoun who stole the show, as the only candidate to elicit laughter from an otherwise very quiet audience.
At one point, Calhoun heaped scorn on the Yukon Party’s commitment to replace the government mail fleet with electric vehicles.
“That’s great, we’ll turn a dozen or so vehicles into electric and we’ll have stations for them to recharge, but that is not anywhere near the scope of what needs to happen,” she said, prompting muted chuckles from the audience. (The Yukon Party actually plans to buy four electric vehicles.)
The Green Party wants to see public transportation offered between all Yukon communities. “I’d like to see any one of the parties up here take that on,” she said.
Later, she voiced concerns about paving the Dawson City airport runway, calling it a “very expensive financial risk to take.”
“We also don’t want to discount the added charm for international tourists to land on a gravel strip. It certainly adds to their experience of being in a really wild place,” she said, to widespread laughter.
Calhoun also delivered a bold closing statement, accusing the other parties of being too quick to say “yes” just to buy votes.
“No, we cannot fund your organization until we ensure that every Yukoner has access to food, shelter and water. No, we cannot continue to outsource our jobs and manufacturing,” she said. “We have to start by developing a sense of self-sufficiency right here, right now.”
The event was organized by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Mines, the Association of Yukon Communities, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org