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Dear Ryan: Stephen Harper's visit to the North

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Dear Ryan,

Thank you for letting Yukoners know about the pre-budget consultations for the 2013-2014 budget. As far as I could tell, most of your Conservative colleagues didn't offer this information to their constituents. So I know that you were really stepping out for us. I forwarded this information on to everyone I could think of. Democracy Watch and the David Suzuki Foundation were very happy to receive the heads up.

The subject of the 16th letter is the Prime Minister's visit to the North.

First I want to comment on how regrettable it was that Mr. Harper's handlers didn't do their homework. An ATV romp over the delicate ecosystem of the Carcross Desert might have struck the Harpers, particularly Mrs. Harper, as an appalling thing to do.

This also reflects badly on the judgement of local Conservative organizers. If they had worked at it, they couldn't have done a better job of painting all Yukon conservatives as redneck land vandals. Many conservatives are also dedicated conservationists. A disservice was done to them.

I am far more concerned about a previous incident in 2010 when the Prime Minister raced an ATV over the Tuktoyaktuk airport runway. When asked if he had a licence to drive an ATV, especially on a runway, Mr. Harper's reply was, "I think I make the rules." Is the Prime Minister is above the law?

A long-time Yukoner recently told me that previous visits by Prime Ministers were held as public events, open to anyone. By staging the only opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister as a party fundraiser, the Conservative Party demonstrated a weak understanding of the difference between government and their party. Furthermore, an unfortunate message was sent to the 66.2 per cent of Yukoners who didn't vote Conservative: "You don't count in our Canada."

There isn't a rule to say that a visiting federal leader can't use provincial and territorial visits as a fundraising opportunity for their party. But that doesn't make it right. In 2010, the Prime Minister's office made a meal out of the per-vote subsidy, saying that "taxpayers should not be forced to fund political parties that they do not even support." Which was a complete distortion the facts, by the way. Well, all taxpayers do pay for these junkets.

The theme of the Prime Minister's visit was northern development. It is Mr. Harper's style to use divisive tactics to achieve his objectives. I suspect that this snub against the majority of Yukoners was deliberate. Working in tandem with the Yukon Party, they have framed the narrative about natural resource development as a choice between prosperity and the environment, pitting miners against the rest of the population.

In fact, good environmental practices and regulations are the difference between development and plundering. And one need only look at how the streamlining of regulations resulted in the American sub-prime mortgage crisis that destabilized the world economy in 2008.

I am in favour of resource development, Ryan. I would use the word "responsible" had its meaning not been so misused of late. I don't believe that those with the most to gain from plundering the North care a tinker's damn about our place and will lobby hard to have environmental regulations and limitations removed. So let's make sure that our beautiful place doesn't become a giant Fort McMurray with its unaffordable housing, lack of infrastructure and social problems, sitting like a dying duck in the middle of the world's largest toxic dump.

When you referred to Mr. Harper as the "Prime Minister of Cannibal," you had my sympathy. It is very easy to make these kinds of mistakes when one is nervous.

But on reflection, I wondered if it wasn't a Freudian slip on your part; an insight into the nature of this new Conservative Canada that Mr. Harper can finally love. We are encouraging the brightest amongst our children to become heavy equipment operators rather than pursuing brighter dreams and higher education. We appear to be knowingly passing on the costs of our short-term prosperity onto future generations while permitting a crime policy that adversely targets youth. So perhaps your slip of the tongue was not so much an insult to the Prime Minister as an accurate depiction of a nation that has decided to eat its own children.

May you walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,

Linda Leon 

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