Shades of green: Parties spar over environmental policies at debate

Candidates from Yukon’s four political parties met at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre on Tuesday night to discuss environmental issues, including the Peel watershed land-use plan, oil and gas development, and carbon pricing.

Candidates from Yukon’s four political parties met at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre on Tuesday night to discuss environmental issues, including the Peel watershed land-use plan, oil and gas development, and carbon pricing.

Yukon Party candidate Danny Macdonald, NDP Leader Liz Hanson, Liberal candidate John Streicker and Green Party candidate Kristina Calhoun faced questions from the public and from groups including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yukoners Concerned About Oil and Gas Exploration/Development and the Trails Only Yukon Association. The event attracted well over 100 audience members.

The only party leader present, Hanson showed her political experience during the forum with clear, concise messages: the NDP will ban fracking in the territory and has been “unwavering” in its support of the final recommended land-use plan for the Peel watershed.

She said the NDP will help transition the Yukon away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy using a planned $50-million green energy fund, which would be partly financed with the revenue from a federally mandated carbon tax.

Streicker, despite his credentials as a climate change lecturer and former federal Green Party candidate, didn’t always get his message across.

In response to a question about fracking in the territory, Hanson said the NDP are completely opposed to unconventional natural gas and would not simply implement a “temporary moratorium” — an obvious dig at the Liberals, whom she accuses of being unclear on their position.

In fact, the Liberals have said unequivocally that they will implement a moratorium on fracking, though they will allow conventional oil and gas development in Eagle Plains. The NDP has not clearly said where it stands on conventional oil and gas, meaning there is no discernible difference between the parties’ positions on this issue.

But instead of pointing that out, Streicker gave a convoluted answer about land-use planning that was met with bemused silence from the audience.

Later, he clarified: “It is my hope that we don’t develop oil and gas here in the territory. It is not the right direction for us as a territory, but we are supportive of the land-use plan.”

His strongest response was perhaps his answer to the Yukon Party’s position on carbon pricing, which consists of telling Yukoners that a carbon tax will make everything cost more.

“I don’t think it’s very leader-like to be using fear,” he said. “It’s a federal tax. It’s coming.”

Macdonald, the rookie of the group, initially seemed uncomfortable in front of a crowd that was largely not in his camp. But he found his stride later in the evening, claiming his party has an “aggressive government plan to address climate change.”

“It’s clear we’re the only party that believes we can do that without implementing a carbon tax in the territory,” he said.

Audience members were largely polite, only snickering audibly when Macdonald said the Yukon Party wants to “sit down with First Nation governments” once the Peel watershed debacle has been settled by the Supreme Court of Canada, with the understanding that “there will be significant protection of the Peel.”

Macdonald focused on a suite of recent announcements the Yukon Party has made, including an $80-million commitment to retrofit inefficient buildings over the next five years. That includes $33 million for upgrades to Yukon government buildings, including the Education building. Another $47 million for retrofits to schools was announced last week.

Altogether, the Yukon Party estimates the retrofits will result in $4 million in energy savings per year and a 15 per cent reduction in the Yukon government’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The party has also promised to double funding for residential and commercial energy incentive programs to $11 million over five years. The incentives were created in 2015 and can be used for energy efficiency renovations and renewable energy installations.

The Yukon Party also plans to buy four electric vehicles to replace the government mail fleet, and to install eight charging stations around Whitehorse, some of which will be available to the public.

The NDP has promised to provide rebates for purchases of green vehicles and charging stations through the development of a clean energy vehicle policy.

Calhoun said the Green Party would enshrine the right to a healthy environment within the mandate of the Yukon Human Rights Commission. The party supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax, alongside corporate tax cuts.

John Glynn-Morris, who attended the forum to learn more about the candidates’ visions, said he was encouraged to hear them talk about the link between the environment and the economy.

“I felt all the parties made connections with the economy and the environment, and I think that’s just so key,” he said.

He also thinks the parties share a fair amount of common ground.

“What kind of bums me out is there’s so much focus on… what makes us different,” he said. “If we keep bickering about differences, it’s not going to get us forward.”

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