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Opposition candidates find little to disagree upon over the environment

Without an incumbent to criticize, Tuesday's federal forum on the environment involved more agreement than actual debate.

Without an incumbent to criticize, Tuesday’s federal forum on the environment involved more agreement than actual debate.

Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell, the NDP’s Melissa Atkinson and Frank de Jong for the Greens answered questions in front of about 100 people at the event hosted by the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The crowd laughed with apparent skepticism when they were told incumbent MP Conservative Ryan Leef could not attend because he was campaigning in Watson Lake.

The trio on stage agreed on plenty. All three promised to reverse the controversial amendments to the Yukon’s environmental and socio-economic assessment act that have Yukon First Nations threatening to go to court.

All opposed fracking and spoke in favour of renewable energy and clean water.

And all three criticized the Conservative government’s elimination of the national science advisor position, cuts to scientific research and the muzzling of scientists keeping them from speaking out publicly.

In an op-ed this year in the Toronto Star, Katie Gibbs, a biologist and executive director of Evidence for Democracy, a non-profit group advocating improved government decision-making, estimates up to 5,000 federal scientists have lost their jobs, and over 250 research and monitoring programs and institutions have been closed.

De Jong said a healthy federal government makes policy based on scientific evidence. He accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government of “policy-based evidence making.”

Atkinson said scientific resources need to be restored.

“Once you have that opportunity to restore that discussion and get that proper data then you can truly move forward and look for change and strengthen your environmental laws.”

Bagnell said the Liberals would have an open science policy, meaning results from scientific studies would be made public.

Liberals would put money back into science, including $25 million a year into scientific research at national parks, “so we can preserve the ecological integrity of parks, get early warnings if there’s species having problems and then prevent permanent damage,” he said.

Bagnell said $40 million would go back into oceans science and monitoring programs, which would be important for Yukon salmon.

Atkinson also spoke passionately about the need to protect Yukon’s salmon. Growing up in the Yukon, she said she can still remember a time when the fish were bountiful.

“Within my lifetime, not being able to fish, that to me can’t get any more real.”

She said the NDP would develop a green economy in Canada with a focus on renewable energy.

Candidates were also questioned about the gutting of environmental legislation under the Conservatives, including the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Changes to that legislation mean only two per cent of the Yukon’s waterways are protected, Atkinson said. The NDP considers clean water a human right, she told the crowd.

Bagnell pointed out that those changes were part of one of the Conservatives’ massive omnibus budget bills.

The Liberals have a 30-point platform related to parliamentary reform, he said. They would stop the misuse of omnibus bills.

The similarities between the three platforms was not lost on the audience.

“I’m wondering why you don’t pull together all your resources rather than have us split that vote and end up with another four years of what’s being described as such an afront,” Johanne Lalonde asked.

“I’m really afraid that we will because of you not working together. The little differences are not worth doing what you’re doing. Please unite.”

All four candidates, include Leef, answered written questions given to them ahead of the forum. Those written answers will be posted at

Contact Ashley Joannou at