The Yukon Party and Liberals disagree on many matters, but they concur on this much: If the New Democrats form the next territorial government, they’ll trash the economy.
To back up this assertion, they cite the NDP proposal to hike the Yukon’s mining royalties, which are currently set at low rates.
Raise these fees, the argument goes, and you’ll scare miners away.
To this, the NDP’s candidate for Lake Laberge, Frank Turner, has a two-word rebuttal.
Last year, the company paid $5.9 million in royalties. That money didn’t flow to the territory, mind you.
It flowed to the Selkirk First Nation, because Minto sits on its traditional territory.
Despite paying these fees, the company isn’t fleeing the territory. Instead, it considers these payments to be the small price of doing business in a part of the world with political stability, paved roads and other perks.
The Yukon government isn’t similarly reaping the rewards it could from mining, Turner contends.
The territory currently charges mere pennies for each ounce of gold pulled in by placer miners, the NDP notes. However, the big money would be in hardrock mines – and those rates, set on a sliding scale, are middle-of-the-pack compared to other jurisdictions, officials assert.
Alexco Resource’s Bellekeno mine and Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine mine both opened last year. They sit on public land. But they won’t need to pay royalties until they turn a profit.
The first few years of operation for a mine are typically losses, while the company pays off its development costs.
Turner finds the Yukon Party’s argument its policies have stoked the mining boom “tiresome,” when global commodity prices are the main driver, he asserts.
He ticks off the benefits the territory would enjoy from higher royalties. It would be less dependent on federal handouts, which currently make up the overwhelming majority of the government’s revenue.
And it would have more money to spend as it sees fit. Had this been done earlier, perhaps the territory wouldn’t need to borrow money to build new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City, said Turner.
As it stands, the Yukon Party’s done a poor job allocating the nearly $1 billion it receives from Ottawa annually, Turner said.
As evidence, he points to Laberge’s volunteer firefighting team, which, for lack of another well, at times must suck water from a nearby creek, he said.
What will happen when a chimney fire catches during an especially cold winter day? asks Turner.
Turner, 64, faces an uphill battle to win his riding in the upcoming election, to be held by October. For the past nine years, Laberge been held by the Yukon Party’s Brad Cathers, who won more than half the popular vote in the past two elections.
Cathers has never met with the Ta’an Kwach’an Council to hear their concerns, said Turner. “That’s totally disrespectful,” he said.
Not true, said Cathers. He’s met with Ta’an constituents, including the chief, on “numerous occasions” as MLA, he said.
Cathers conceded he had never attended a Ta’an annual general meeting. But he’d never been invited, either, and he expressed concern it would be “disrespectful” to show up without being asked.
Cathers couldn’t recall whether he’s met with Chief Brenda Sam, who was elected in the autumn of 2009. Sam couldn’t be reached before press time.
Turner, who has lived in Laberge for 19 years, is best known as the owner of Muktuk Kennels. He’s the only Canadian-born musher to win the Yukon Quest.
He’s also worked as a social worker for 30 years, and during that time visited all of the Yukon’s communities.
Besides Cathers, he’ll be vying against Mike Simon, a government electrician whom the Liberals are running in the riding.
Turner is a longtime New Democrat, but he plays down the significance of this – smart, in a riding where socialism is a dirty word for many.
New Democrats introduced the Yukon’s Mining Incentive Program, he noted. The NDP also built the Yukon College and Yukon Arts Centre.
He compares Yukon’s political parties to brands of trucks. Everyone has their preference,
“But before you get in, ask yourself, where are you going?”
He accused the Yukon Party of behaving like sulky children in their handling of the plan to protect the Peel Watershed.
“It’s like they’re taking their ball and going home.”
And Turner touts the credibility of NDP Leader Liz Hanson, in contrast to scandals of the Yukon Party’s making.
While both the Yukon Party and Liberals have nearly completed their election lineups, the NDP still must fill in half its roster.
Last night, Kate White won the NDP nomination in Takhini-Kopper King. The life-skills coach beat out Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, a former union boss.
She’s up against the Liberals’ Cherish Clarke and the Yukon Party’s Samson Hartland.
And Stephen Dunbar-Edge was acclaimed yesterday to represent the NDP in Mountainview. The food bank executive will be fighting for the new riding’s seat against Premier Darrell Pasloski and the Liberals’ David Sloan, a former NDP cabinet minister.
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.