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The Yukon election is actually about issues

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The Yukon Territory is going to the polls on October 11, the day after Thanksgiving.

There are three main parties running: the incumbent Yukon Party (conservative right down to the Tory blue on their election signs), the Liberals and the New Democrats.

The Yukon Party and the Liberals are running in all 19 ridings and the Dippers have 18 candidates.

Two smaller groups have put forward candidates -- the First Nations Party has three names on the ballets and the Yukon Greens are running in two ridings.

There are also two independent candidates, including the iconic Elvis Aaron Presley.

It's his real name, and he is running with the slogan "Be A Hound Dog, Vote Elvis Presley, Make Yukon Graceland."

With all these choices there is the danger of vote splitting.

If the Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, First Nation Party and Independents are all nibbling at the middle to left-of-centre vote the right wingers could win in a number of key ridings.

It will be very similar to what happened in the spring federal election.

Then, the Liberals got 5,290 votes, the Greens got 3,037 votes, the NDP got 2,308 votes and the Tories sneaked up and took the riding with 5,422 votes.

For most progressives in the Yukon, this territorial election will be about making the agonizing choice between voting strategically and voting based on principles.

Basically, it could boil down to anyone-but-the-Yukon-Party type voting.

For example, in ridings where it looks like the Dippers will win, Liberal supporters might have to make that difficult decision and switch their vote. In other ridings the opposite could occur.

It could be an uphill battle as well to unseat the incumbents. There is a perception that during economic good times voters tend to vote for incumbents and tend to vote right-wing.

The Yukon economy is doing well, not thanks to the governing Yukon Party but thanks to record high mineral prices.

This has resulted in a massive mining exploration boom over the past few years and three mines either starting or about to start up.

Even though the economy is doing well not everyone is benefiting.

The economic boom means that the Yukon housing shortage has reached unbelievable proportions.

The average house in Whitehorse, the territorial capital, goes for over $425,000.

Rental units are either unavailable or priced so high one is probably better off paying a mortgage, if one can find a house to buy.

For those with the means to afford to build a new home, the land just isn't available.

The City of Whitehorse just had a land purchase lottery where there were more than 400 applicants for 19 lots.

The result of all this is a tent city of homeless people camped out in front of the Legislative Assembly building.

And the first dusting of snow has started to appear on the ridges that surround the city.

Each party has trotted out ideas on how to deal with the homeless situation but an immediate solution is needed for this winter.

It is disturbing that in a territory as wealthy as the Yukon the government is so disorganized it cannot provide basic shelter to some of its citizens.

It also cannot seem to protect the environment.

Thanks to the mining boom, the Yukon is being trampled on like never before in the quest for minerals.

In the past, the scale of mining was smaller so it did not receive much attention. This election, though, is different.

The environment seems to be one of the big issues being discussed and it's all thanks to a river called the Peel.

The Peel Watershed has been the subject of comprehensive and controversial land-use planning over the past few years.

The Yukon mining regime operates on the free entry system. Thus anywhere can be staked unless it is specifically withdrawn from staking and thus mining.

One area that has been temporarily withdrawn is the Peel Watershed while land-use planning is hammered out between local First Nations and the Yukon Government.

To that end, consultation is occurring over a final recommend land-use plan done by an independent commission. This plan essentially recommends 80 per cent protection.

The affected First Nations have reluctantly agreed to 80 per cent protection, but they would rather see one hundred per cent protection.

The Liberals and the NDP both support the eighty per cent plan, the Yukon Party does not.

No one knows what percentage they would like to see protected but they are perceived as being so pro-mining one suspects it is very, very low.

In a surprising and innovative move, the New Democrats have differentiated themselves from the other parties over the question of mineral royalties.

They want to increase the royalties on hard rock, placer gold and other mineral and non-renewable resource royalties.

These monies would then go into a Yukon Resource Legacy Fund which would be used to diversify the economy.

One assumes that this means diversifying it away from mining, because having a territory totally dependent on one industry is very economically dangerous and completely unsustainable.

When the current mining boom goes bust, and it will, there is precious little for the Yukon to fall back on.

To give the reader an idea how low current royalties are one only has to look at placer mining.

The royalty charged on placer gold in the Yukon is 37.5 cents an ounce, irrespective of the current price of gold.

Yes, that's right, 37.5 cents. Miners get around $1,800 per ounce and yet they pay virtually nothing in royalties.

The Yukon is literally giving the stuff away.

To their shame, the Liberals have said now is not the time to fiddle with royalty rates. But at least they said it. The Yukon Party has been resolutely silent on this issue.

An issue where the Liberals have taken a bold stand is committing themselves to connecting the Yukon's electrical grid with the rest of North America.

Currently the Yukon has a stand-alone electrical grid. With all the mines either online or proposed to be connected there is not enough electricity.

The Yukon has some small hydro dams but in winter, diesel generators are required to provide enough power.

This is expensive and releases a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

As an aside, it looks like climate change isn't really on any of the parties' agenda although this Liberal initiative could deal with one aspect of it.

Should the Yukon grid be connected to the British Columbia grid it would mean the Yukon could buy power from down south to power the mining industry.

It could also mean surplus energy, which sometimes happens in the summer, could be sold to southern customers.

The only problem is that the cost of physically connecting the electrical grids is astronomical, possibly in the neighbourhood of one billion dollars.

The question arises of why should taxpayers pay for this connection so that mining companies can have cheap southern hydro power.

The current mining boom has brought prosperity to the Yukon but it has forced the political parties to deal with substantive topics.

The housing crisis, protecting ecological gems such as the Peel Watershed, royalties and energy supply are the main issues that have dominated the campaign so far.

It seems amazing but it looks like this Yukon election campaign is actually about real issues.

The parties are starting to differentiate themselves on these issues, and voters will be given a clear choice between them.

The unfortunate thing is that vote splitting in some ridings might become the agonizing dilemma for those inclined to be centrist or progressive in their voting choices.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. His work centers on Yukon recycling, energy and mining issues. When he is not winter camping or summer hiking, he collects stamps and spoils his two cats.

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