Is budget green or grey?

One day after international Earth Day, critics challenge the Yukon Party government’s desire to tackle climate change.

One day after international Earth Day, critics challenge the Yukon Party government’s desire to tackle climate change.

The reason: the 2007-2008 territorial budget.

On Thursday, Premier Dennis Fentie’s selling his $867-million budget as green.

 “This is a budget that focuses heavily on our environment and is advancing our agenda on climate change and modernizing our (plant and animal) database,” said Fentie.

“That’s a significant investment in Yukon’s environment.”

But many question whether Fentie’s waxing poetic or actually doing something to curb climate change.

“If you look at it, dollar-and-cent wise, it’s a very poor budget for climate change,” said Yukon Conservation Society energy co-ordinator Lewis Rifkind.

“The weird thing about tackling climate change is that you don’t necessarily have to spend money on it. You actually have to do something,” he said.

Doing something is where the Yukon Party is still struggling, stressed Rifkind.

There is no program or money to wean Yukoners off of their fossil fuel addiction, said Rifkind.

And while Fentie’s committed $145,000 to continue drafting a climate change action plan, that’s nothing more than a work in progress, said Rifkind.

“We seem to have been developing a climate change action plan for donkey’s years. Where is this plan?”

But there is money to develop more roads and suburbs, such as the $5 million for an extension of Hamilton Boulevard and $6.25 million to develop lots in Porter Creek.

Both developments are geared toward people with cars and not to encouraging people to use mass transit, he said.

As he made the point, he noted people had to drive to Sunday’s Earth Day celebrations at Mt. McIntyre in Whitehorse because there is no Sunday bus service.

“What’s the point to building all these roads if the only way you can drive them is with your fancy SUV?”

Before the budget was released, the Yukon Party government pledged $15 million to projects it said will tackle climate change — including a $10-million pledge to the proposed Carmacks-to-Pelly Crossing grid extension and $5 million to build a third turbine at the Aishihik Lake hydroelectricity facility.

Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell has trouble with the projects being sold as “green,” and notes the millions don’t even appear in the budget.

There are many more immediate measures that could have helped individuals — within their homes and within their daily commutes — to curb greenhouse gases, said Mitchell on Thursday.

Why isn’t the $5 million for the third wheel and $10 million for the power line project in the budget?

Finance officials told him the budget was “put to bed” a long time ago, he said.

“That’s very poor planning and very poor practice. How much confidence can we have that these things will actually happen?”

Linking the territory’s two hydroelectric grids and taking communities off of diesel power is a good idea, he said.

 “If there’s going to be a mine opening, I’d rather see it running off of hydro electricity than diesel,” said Mitchell. “However, I disagree with the idea of saying this is a climate-change initiative.

“It’s an infrastructure initiative. Just say what it is.”

He is far less supportive of the $5-million investment in a third turbine.

 “I really struggle with that being a green initiative, because even the Energy Corp, in their 20-year plan, said they didn’t really anticipate a need for this, including with mining coming on stream, until 2013,” he said. “There’s going to be no effect for years of that wheel.”

The government could have used the $5 million to help Yukoners improve the efficiency of their homes or to increase bus transit service, said Mitchell.

But it’s easier to track results when the government invests big money in large green energy projects, said Rifkind.

The former federal Liberal government spent a lot of money on many little projects, making it difficult to track results, he added.

“It’s very hard to monitor everybody,” said Rifkind. “Whereas when you do one big project, it’s pretty easy to see the results.

“But what’s the point if that electricity is going to my terribly inefficient home?

The $5 million could have insulated a lot of homes.

“Is it the best use? It’s a very good question.”

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