Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole releases Northern policy
Submitted Photo/Yukon News
A candidate for the Conservative Party leadership promises to restore a permanent military reserve force in the Yukon if elected prime minister.
“We need to return a reserve presence to Yukon because it is growing in importance to our country,” Erin O’Toole told the News April 6.
“With a renewed security issue in the North and with a more aggressive Russia than 20 years ago, we really need to have that permanent presence of Canadian Armed Forces.”
O’Toole released his Northern policy April 5. Few Conservative leadership candidates have visited the territories during their campaign or released territory-specific platforms.
O’Toole himself hasn’t been to the Yukon yet but said he plans to.
O’Toole also proposed a specialized Northern drone unit that could be used for military purposes but also to conduct wildlife studies and help with search and rescue operations.
“It’s a great technology that allows you quite simply to cover some of the vast territory in the North,” O’Toole said.
But he also wants Northeners to be the ones operating and maintaining the drones.
The plan is part of O’Toole’s bigger platform of increasing military spending to assert Canada’s sovereignty in the North.
That would put Canada in a position to pressure the United States to live up to its commitments under the Shakwak Agreement.
Under the 1977 agreement, the U.S. used to fund maintenence of the Alaska Highway system. But the U.S. haven’t provided any funds since 2012.
For O’Toole, the discussion with U.S. President Donald Trump about Skakwak would centre around sovereignty and national security issues.
“He is a business person by background, if we can position this as an agreement for mutual benefit of the two countries we should push that they live up to their agreement,” he said.
Another major point in O’Toole’s Northern policy is representation in Ottawa.
He blasted Trudeau for not consulting the territories before imposing an Arctic drilling ban earlier this year and promised that the territories would get a seat in cabinet.
“I followed how a year and a half of the Trudeau government has really (shown) neglect to the point of contempt of the North,” he said.
“Mr. Trudeau talks about a new relationship with Aboriginal leaders, yet in the North, he committed 15 per cent of the entire landmass and some waters without consulting them.”
But when asked about concerns over Trump’s plan to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, O’Toole remained vague.
“We say there has to be responsible development that has opportunities for the North, with the highest environmental protections,” he said. “If we take that approach ourselves, we can push Mr. Trump to take a similar approach which would include dialogue with the Inuit people and local employers and industry.”
On the transfer payment front, O’Toole proposed a stable funding formula to allow the territorial government for more predictable budgeting. Last year the federal government cut $23 million from the Yukon’s transfer after it changed the way it calculated territorial funding. Eventually the federal government restored most of the money, $16.5 million.
O’Toole also promised a “base-plus approach” to infrastructure spending.
“The smallest tax base and the largest land mass and unique infrastructure needs require thinking about it differently,” he said.
He also wants to see a new federal agreement with the territory over royalty sharing.
A spokesperson for the Yukon department of finance confirmed that as it stands, any revenues from oil, gas, minerals, forestry, water and land over $6 million are deducted from the transfer payment.
Ultimately, there needs to be consultation, O’Toole said.
“For politicians to make serious decisions that impact the lives of people in the North without meaningful consultation is terrible leadership.”
O’Toole can count on the endorsement from several Yukon Party bigwigs: interim party leader Stacey Hassard, Kluane MLA Wade Istchenko and House Leader Scott Kent all publicly endorsed him.
On the topic of land claim agreements and Yukon’s three unsigned First Nations, O’Toole says it’s important that agreements are dealt with quickly.
“I want to resolve claims and enter into agreements with First Nation governments as quickly as possibe so they can develop education and employment opportunities for their people,” he said.
“It’s going to be one of the areas where our relationship is enhanced not just through talk like Justin Trudeau but actual partnership on resource development, and employment opportunity.”
Lisa Raitt was in town earlier this week and Maxime Bernier visited Whitehorse back in February. Former premier Darrell Pasloski endorsed Raitt’s candidacy during a town hall meeting.