Layton hauls political baggage on Yukon vacation

Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, the first couple of the NDP, are on a Yukon holiday that makes room for politicking.

Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, the first couple of the NDP, are on a Yukon holiday that makes room for politicking.

The federal party leader and Toronto MP are paddling the Alsek River in the Kluane National Reserve.

They want to document climate change, happening more visibly in the North than anywhere else, said Layton.

The 14-day adventure vacation will be filmed for educational use.

Some of the world’s largest and longest glaciers are in found along the Alsek.

“We wanted to understand climate change firsthand rather than just reading about it,” said Layton, who spoke with reporters Monday afternoon alongside Chow.

Layton also met with local NDP officials.

After the half-hour news conference, Layton met with Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway to discuss municipal infrastructure and public transit.

With party business and politicking on the schedule, Layton seems to have brought the office to his vacation.

The couple made the trip on their own dime.

Layton and Chow paid for the two-week canoe trip out of their own pockets.

However, a flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse, was paid through their MP travel expense account.

Opposition MPs are allowed 25 free trips a year to anywhere in Canada, above their constituency travel.

Unlike government ministers and their staff, opposition travel expenses are not made public.

Layton and Chow will pay for their flight back to Vancouver, said NDP spokesperson Ian Capstick.

The vacation is not all pleasure.

The couple will document the melting glaciers and bring back their experience to colleagues in Ottawa and broader public education.

“You see the changes far more dramatically in the North,” said Layton.

“We’ve been hearing about the early impacts of climate change in the Yukon for years.”

Climate change, energy policy and environmental protection have become election-worthy issues in Ottawa over the past year.

The Liberal Party released its Green Shift plan, a revenue neutral carbon tax on big polluters.

The plan taxes greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuels while cutting income and business taxes.

The Conservative government has committed to a 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 through emission targets for industry.

Layton dismissed both plans, favouring a cap-and-trade system.

“(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper doesn’t seem to understand we have a climate-change crisis, and significant action needs to be taken,” said Layton.

A carbon tax is simply a charge that does nothing to dissuade individuals or businesses from changing energy consumption.

“It won’t create jobs; it’ll just shuffle money around,” said Layton.

A cap-and-trade system would limit emissions of big industry polluters, who would pay a $35 per tonne fine if over the limit.

The price would rise based on the trade market, where pollution credits could be swapped.

Any proceeds of the NDP cap-and-trade system would be invested into public transit and renewable energy like wind power.

“We have a federal government that spends far more money on subsidizing (oil giant) Exxon at the tarsands than renewable energy,” said Layton.

“Polluters should pay, and those funds should go into solutions.”

Investment targets would be into renewable energy and emission innovation, which would also create jobs, he added.

Climate-change policy may define the next election, but the NDP hasn’t had much help spreading its message in the Yukon.

Liberal MP Larry Bagnell is a popular politician; Conservative candidate Darrell Pasloski is campaigning hard; and Green Party candidate John Streicker is a well-known environmentalist.

The NDP hasn’t nominated a candidate.

That the party has yet to put a name forward is not unusual because people can’t declare for a number of reasons, like employment issues, said Layton.

“There’s a deep tradition of NDP support in the Yukon,” he said, referencing former federal leader and Yukoner Audrey McLaughlin.

An election issue will be the cost of living in the North, said Layton.

“It’s getting harder and harder for people to pay their bills at the end of the month,” he said.

The northern-living allowance should be increased, which could be done by ensuring wealth generated in the North stays here, he added.

Layton previewed his infrastructure meeting with Buckway.

The Tories have a system of investment that focuses on signature projects, not basic infrastructure needs, leaving communities uncertain of regular funding, said Layton.

“Municipal infrastructure isn’t about bang and politics, it’s about things like sewage systems and road maintenance,” he said.