The Prime Minister was visiting Canada’s North for a week in August, making a few announcements and participating in a few photo opportunities. Unfortunately, someone in the planning department didn’t do their research and one of the photo ops has turned into something much bigger.
Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen rode some ATVs in Whitehorse, Yukon through what turned out to be a fragile ecosystem. Activists in the area have reportedly been trying for years to keep ATVs out of the wilderness of the Carcross desert. Conservation officials told the National Post newspaper that the Carcross is home to at least two at-risk plant and insect species.
The Carcross desert, according to Environment Yukon, is actually a set of dunes, the result of a mixture of sand and silt being blown onto shore from the Bennett Lake. The Ministry describes the area as a fragile ecosystem and request that all hikers stay on the trails because of a “variety of plants and animals” unique to the area. The polite request is not a legal requirement, but certainly seems like something the Prime Minister’s team should have been aware would be an issue.
The photo op was apparently suggested by Yukon MP Ryan Leef (who also managed to introduce Harper as “Prime Minister of cannibal,” so probably didn’t gain any points during the trip). Leef says that ATVs are part of life in Yukon, but in the last election in the territory all candidates promised to implement policies that would keep ATVs out of such ecosystems. Trails Only, the organization that obtained those promises, says that Harper is not to blame – Leef should have known better. The organization conducted a poll in 2011 and found that 93 percent of resident of Yukon wanted ATVs keep out of wilderness areas like the Carcross desert.
On a previous trip to Canada’s North, Harper sped around on an ATV while his security detail chased after him, and when reporters asked if he was licensed to drive the vehicle, he was quoted as saying ‘I think I make the rules.’
Ironically, while in the North, Harper announced the creation of a new national park reserve. The new national park, Harper says, strikes a balance between environmental protection and the good of the economy.
Photo Credit: Peter Blanchard