“It’s hard to blame Mr. Harper,” said Ken Taylor, head of the lobby group Trails Only Yukon, a group including ATV riders that has pushed for ATV legislation for the past two years. “He comes up here and he doesn’t know Carcross from Carmacks,” said Taylor, referring to two Yukon towns.
But his handlers should have been aware of the territory’s prickly debate over ATVs — especially in a place as unique as the Carcross Desert, he said. “His advisers should give him better advice than put him on an ATV in a place like that,” he said. Before the last territorial election in October, Trails Only Yukon commissioned a poll that found 93 per cent of Yukoners wanted legislation to govern ATV use, said Taylor.
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The Carcross Desert — which Mr. Harper and his wife, Laureen, spent about 15 minutes exploring on rented ATVs — is home to at least two species of at-risk plant and insect life, conservation officials said. It’s a fragile environment that is “being impacted by the high levels of ATV activity in the area,” said Christina Macdonald, a co-ordinator with the Yukon Conservation Society.
Ryan Leef, Conservative MP for the Yukon, pitched the photo-op idea — which was squeezed between a community barbecue and a visit with puppies destined for the Iditarod sled dog race. “It shows that our prime minister is in touch with the average, common Canadian doing average, common things,” he said. “For us as Yukoners, that location has been sort of a mainstay for dune buggies and ATVs and motor bikes for as long as I can ever remember.”