The bold choice

Rod Taylor doesn't shy away from big ideas. The 51-year-old dog musher and waste-to-energy proponent announced if he wins the Yukon Party leadership race he would champion connecting Yukon's energy grid to British Columbia.

Rod Taylor doesn’t shy away from big ideas.

The 51-year-old dog musher and waste-to-energy proponent announced if he wins the Yukon Party leadership race he would champion connecting Yukon’s energy grid to British Columbia.

“It’s time to be bold,” he said.

That’s one word for it. Others would say presumptuous: the work underway to expand the Mayo hydro-electric facilities is the territory’s biggest-ever infrastructure project. Ottawa contributed $71 million.

Plugging into BC’s grid would be much more pricey: upwards of $1 billion.

But it’s a needed investment that would eventually pay dividends for the territory, said Taylor.

As long as Yukon’s grid is isolated, the territory runs the risk of building new power projects that will become costly liabilities when global commodity prices cool.

Linking to BC would change that, in the short run providing a relatively cheap and clean alternative to burning diesel fuel to power upcoming mines.

In the long run, the Yukon could turn itself into an energy exporter by flooding valleys and building new hydro-electric dams, as well as tapping into alternate energy sources. That would make the territory less dependent on handouts from Ottawa.

Big risk, big potential payback. Sounds a lot like Taylor himself.

He’s won the support of Elaine Taylor (no relation), Yukon’s Environment minister and deputy premier. Scott Kent, a former Liberal cabinet minister, is running Taylor’s campaign.

Taylor promises to broaden the Yukon Party base by luring Liberal voters. “Frankly, I think I’m in the unique position to appeal to people on both sides of the centre.”

The goal? “To keep this economy purring without turning this place into Fort McMurray run amok.”

Still, many wonder what he stands for.

Not long ago, when Taylor ran the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, he railed against the Yukon Party government for its foot-dragging on protecting the Peel Watershed.

Today, he says he didn’t understand the planning process when he blasted the government for showing “contempt.”

He’s distanced himself from the association’s position since December, which calls for the Yukon government to protect four-fifths of the Peel.

“I didn’t agree with that,” he said. “You don’t take an area the size of Scotland and turn it into a park.”

He’s only firm on protecting the Snake, Bonnet Plume and Wind rivers, which together make up two-fifths of the region.

Why not resign, then? “I wasn’t about to resign because I had one difference with the membership. I believe we can agree to disagree.”

Also, he recently considered running as a Liberal. In the autumn of 2009, Taylor offered to be their candidate, said Jason Cunning, the Liberals’ chief of staff.

But there was a condition.

“He said he wanted to be the leader,” said Cunning. “I said, ‘We have one of those.’”

Taylor insists the Liberals courted him. Eventually, he realized the Yukon Party would be a better fit.

He joined the Yukon Party last month, at its annual meeting. He voted for them in the last two territorial elections, he said.

This leadership bid is not opportunistic, he said. “Clearly, it would of been a lot easier with another party.”

And he’s been called worse. Wade Carrell, president of the Yukon Prospectors Association, has warned Taylor is a conservationist sleeper agent, bent on infiltrating the governing party.

“That’s bollocks,” said Taylor.

So is the claim former Liberal premier Pat Duncan endorsed him. Apparently, this rumour started because of a garbled transcription of a CHON-FM report. It mixed up how Taylor’s campaign manager, Kent, once served under Duncan.

Yukon’s housing shortage is an “enormous issue,” said Taylor. Within 60 days, he would strike a task force of government officials and business representatives to plan a fix. And he’d look for answers Outside, such as schemes aimed at building low-cost housing for young couples unable to buy their first home.

“We can’t just keep our heads in the sand.”

Taylor supports free staking, but he’s willing to consider new rules to curb mining exploration within municipal limits.

He promised to do more to help alcoholics and drug addicts. “The 28-day detox is simply not enough if you don’t have that followup.”

On education, he’d study how Juneau helps struggling young students by putting them in “clusters” that offer support. “They’ve had huge success with that,” said Taylor.

And he’d strike a committee to create an action plan for ATV regulation. “It’s clearly an issue of enough importance to enough Yukoners to warrant that kind of scrutiny.”

He’d open communications channels that are now closed by holding monthly meetings with opposition leaders to discuss how to improve legislative affairs, and with reporters to field questions.

And he would wield less power than the current premier, by handing off the Finance portfolio to one of his cabinet colleagues.

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