The accidental environmentalist

If we judge Premier Darrell Pasloski by his deeds, rather than his words, it’s possible to view him as one of the Yukon’s most accomplished environmentalists.

If we judge Premier Darrell Pasloski by his deeds, rather than his words, it’s possible to view him as one of the Yukon’s most accomplished environmentalists.

After all, the premier has quite possibly done more than anyone to protect the Peel watershed from development, obstruct the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing from being performed here, and to strangle the flow of cash to mining companies operating in the territory.

Admittedly, these accomplishments have been entirely accidental, and for someone as fervently in favour of development as Pasloski, amount to something like scoring a hat trick against your own team. But if you are a big supporter of environmental protection and take a dim view of industry, you probably owe the premier a big thank-you.

On the Peel front, it’s true that there is plenty of credit to be shared for the region’s de facto protected status. Pasloski’s Yukon Party predecessors mucked things up badly by refusing to clearly express what they wanted at the appropriate time, despite having many years to do so. But our present premier helped ensure the Peel remained a big, symbolic issue, in which any compromise between opposing parties is impossible, by pushing through a plan that was pretty much the opposite of what was proposed during planning talks.

As a result, miners will continue to stay away from the region as long as it remains in legal limbo, and it looks quite unlikely that the courts will ever agree with the premier’s argument that his government’s dodgy dealings are constitutionally defensible. In the meantime, the Peel remains Exhibit A to illustrate the poisoned relationship between Yukon First Nations and the territorial government on resource issues.

On the fracking file, Pasloski’s representatives on an all-party committee managed to approve a report that doesn’t even bother to try to measure what benefits fracking may bring – the sort of information that might come in handy now that the government is trying to persuade the public that the controversial practice is worth the risk.

Just as the Yukon Party did with the Peel, it waited so late into the territory’s fracking debate to try to express the merits of development that, by now, most residents have probably already made up their minds. And once again it looks like the government only went through an empty gesture of public consultation, after it had decided well in advance what it intended to do.

Ultimately, the fate of any fracking project in the Liard basin in southeast Yukon depends on the support of the Liard First Nation. We defy anyone to see the sense in first stripping this First Nation of its formal veto over oil-and-gas projects – and enraging its leaders in the process – then later handing it back, as this government has done. What makes these gestures all the more futile is that the First Nation possessed an effective veto, whether the territory liked it or not, in the form of lawsuits and blockades.

Admittedly, nobody knows where the current chief stands on thea matter, as he’s hardly issued a public statement since being elected, and nobody at his basketcase First Nation government office even bothers to pick up the phone. But his predecessor was deeply hostile to fracking, and to our knowledge, no First Nation member to date has spoken publicly in favour of it. It would be a wild swing for the First Nation to come around to embrace fracking. It’s hard to imagine the premier is the man to bring this change about, and easy to see how his handling of the file has made that task even harder.

To top it off, it now it looks quite likely the premier will succeed in persuading Ottawa into passing legislation that will undermine public confidence in Yukon’s environmental assessment regime, which hardrock miners warn will cripple their ability to raise funds for future projects across the territory. This week Conservative representatives on a federal committee decided to ignore every criticism they heard during recent hearings in Whitehorse, and push forward the proposed bill without change.

Yukon’s Conservative MP and senator also deserve a nod for their ongoing efforts to kick the feet out from beneath industry, as the disputed bill is, after all, federal jurisdiction. But half of the disputed proposals, introduced late in the game and with little First Nation consultation, were dreamed up by Pasloski’s government. And the premier is the guy who remains adamant that these changes become law, regardless of whether this sets off another big lawsuit, as First Nations promise it will.

The folks at the Yukon Conservation Society must be green with envy. They wouldn’t dream of accomplishing such feats by themselves. Nor would the territory’s New Democrats swing so big. No, such feats are only within the reach of a development-minded premier who practises diplomacy at times with such staggering incompetence, much of what he aims to do ends up achieving its opposite effect.

(JT)