UPDATED August 5
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched the longest federal election campaign in modern Canadian history, which Yukon MP Ryan Leef expects to increase voter turnout in the territory.
Harper made the announcement on Sunday, after asking Governor General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament and call an election for Monday, Oct. 19.
The 78-day campaign will be the longest the country has seen since 1872. Leef told the News he supports his party leader’s decision because “for all intents and purposes, the opposition has been in campaign mode… since June.”
He said calling the election now will ensure that parties pick up more of the campaign costs, instead of taxpayers shouldering the cost of unofficial campaigning.
“I think what we’re going to see over a longer campaign is much greater voter engagement and greater voter turnout,” he added.
In fact, a longer election will cost taxpayers money. Elections Canada estimates that a standard 37-day campaign costs about $375 million. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates that could increase to around $500 million during this campaign.
There is also no longer a firm campaign spending limit, thanks to the Conservatives’ Fair Elections Act. Where parties used to be limited to $25 million in campaign spending, they can now spend an additional $675,000 every day beyond the 37-day minimum.
That creates a bigger burden for taxpayers, since they reimburse up to 50 per cent of the parties’ election expenses through a campaign rebate.
Yukon NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson said the Conservatives’ recent spending on pre-election advertising – $13.5 million in April and May – shows they’re not serious about saving taxpayers money.
“I think actions speak louder than words,” she said.
But both she and Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell welcomed the long campaign as a chance to spend more time getting to know their constituents.
“It’s fine for me in the Yukon,” Bagnell said. “It’s a huge riding. It takes a long time to get to all the communities.”
Bagnell said he will emphasize his 23 years of federal experience helping people negotiate day-to-day issues including pensions, employment insurance, and income tax.
He also said the Liberal Party will do away with four controversial amendments to Bill S-6, which made changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. The Liberals also promise to implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to cut the middle class tax rate by seven per cent.
Bagnell said his party will also increase funding to Parks Canada and the CBC.
Atkinson said that, if elected, she would make sure Yukoners are better represented in Ottawa. She said it’s important to strike a balance between environmental protection and sustainable economic development to encourage investment in the territory.
“People have been very receptive. That to me is a signal that people want change,” she said. “It’s a new era out there for people wanting positive change.”
Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson said the Yukon MP needs to focus on affordable housing and diversifying the territory’s economy, in part by championing tourism.
She also accused Leef of letting the Conservatives kill a private member’s bill he brought forward in 2014 that would have allowed judges to consider Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
“He’s not been a strategic or strong voice for the Yukon,” she said.
For his part, Leef said the most important issue on his agenda is strengthening the Yukon’s economy.
“Yukoners want to know that there’s hope and opportunity and a future for themselves today and for their children tomorrow,” he said. “I think the most significant issue for Yukoners is knowing that we’re staying on track with a tax plan and a balanced budget.”
Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the economy is a top priority. He’s concerned about a decline in private-sector jobs in the territory, and said Yukon’s MP could help improve the employment situation. For instance, he said Yukon should qualify for an exemption to the Agreement on Internal Trade, which prevents provinces and territories from favouring local companies. He believes that would promote job creation in the territory.
“Economic development in the North has to become a priority for Ottawa,” he said. “It’s not just giving us transfer payments.”
Leef has been the MP for Yukon since 2011, when he beat Bagnell by 132 votes. Bagnell had been the territory’s MP since 2000.
Bagnell believes he lost in 2011 because people expected him to win, and didn’t bother to vote.
“I think people will be thinking about that this time around,” he said.
Atkinson said she’s not concerned about splitting the vote on the left in this fall’s election.
“People know what they don’t want and they’re trying to figure out what they want,” she said. “I’m in it to win it.”
Yukon’s Green Party candidate is Frank de Jong. He could not be reached for comment by press time.
Cory Laidler, a local electrician and chair of the Apprenticeship Advisory Board, will run for the Libertarian Party of Canada.
Yukon College will host a candidate’s debate on Wednesday, Sept. 23. The debate is open to the public, but will be focused on issues relevant to students. At least some of the questions will come from students. Leef, Bagnell, Atkinson, and de Jong have all confirmed their attendance.
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