POLITICS

Harper: Yukon Will Get Own Unit Of Armed Forces Reserves If Tories Re-Elected

09/04/2015 01:04 EDT | Updated 09/04/2015 03:59 EDT

WHITEHORSE — The U.S. secretary of state this week urged anyone running for high office to come to the North to talk climate change, but as Stephen Harper campaigned there Friday, it wasn't an item on his agenda.

While the North feels the impact of global warming likely more keenly than any other region of Canada, Harper didn't mention the issue in his remarks, nor has he referenced it yet on this campaign.

When asked why, Harper was succinct.

"I believe the two major issues in this campaign are economy and security," he said.

Harper was in Whitehorse for the final day of his campaign week to make announcements on both those fronts aimed at ensuring his party keeps its hold on the lone riding in the territory.

He pledged that Yukon will receive a new military reserve unit as part of a previous campaign pledge to increase the size of the Forces reserves to 30,000 from 24,000. The territory last had its own reserve regiment in 1968.

He also pledged $9 million over three years starting in 2016 for a tourism program to attract recreational anglers, hunters and snowmobiles from the U.S.

There were also a series of new measures aimed at hunters — a annual program beginning in 2017 to sustain habitats that support bird, moose and turkey populations at a cost of $5 million a year and new rules around the hunting of migratory birds, which would, among other things, allow a family to hunt them on a single permit.

But on climate change, there was nothing new. He reiterated the government's target of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions over 2005 levels by 2030, which will be presented at UN climate conference in Paris in December.

There has yet been no plan released on how Canada will achieve that target.

"This is going to be the subject, ultimately, not of a decision by the government of Canada. but by a decision of the international community in December and I'm optimistic that that is headed in the right direction," he said.

Harper's flight to Yukon likely crossed paths with the departing flights of world leaders who had been in Alaska this week for an international summit on Arctic issues.

Canada's delegation was led by a senior civil servant, rather than Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, whose absence was pegged to the federal election.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made passing reference to Nicholson's decision to sit the meeting out in his closing remarks at the event:

"I think anybody running for any high office in any nation in the world should come to Alaska or to any other place where it is happening and inform themselves about this. It is a seismic challenge that is affecting millions of people today."

Harper's stop in Whitehorse was his third in the North since the campaign began, but he's visited the region every summer since becoming prime minister.

The Conservatives face a tough fight in the Yukon. Incumbent Ryan Leef hopes to hang on to the seat he took from the Liberals in 2011 by only 132 votes. Leef is up against his 2011 Liberal rival Larry Bagnell, who was the MP for the riding from 2000 to 2011.

One of the issues for Bagnell was the fact he was forced to vote in favour of keeping the long gun registry in 2010 because it was a whipped vote in his party.

The decision to scrap it won the Conservatives votes across the country and Harper played into that on Friday, calling the gun registry one of the "classic disconnects of all time" between Ottawa and the Yukon and other parts of rural Canada.

"The Liberals say completely different things on this to completely different people at different time, you know they want in their hearts to bring it back as well and they will if they get the chance," he said.

The NDP are also fielding a star candidate in Melissa Atkinson, a First Nations lawyer and former chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

But in 2011, the NDP actually finished fourth in the riding, behind the Greens, who are this time running Frank de Jong, a local public school teacher.

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