Democracy can be a beautiful thing when it works, like it did this week.
Funny thing is that it’s been so long since we’ve seen it in action, we hardly even recognized it.
Shock waves reverberated around the territory when news spread that Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers had put the kibosh on oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough.
At least until after the next election.
Smart move, but it’s such a major departure from the Yukon Party’s usual damn-the-torpedoes style of governing, it’s taking a while to sink in.
And don’t forget this is the same government that’s pumped plenty of time and money into wooing the oil and gas industry to the territory.
So when “industry” finally answered back in January, asking to explore 12 parcels of land between Carcross and Carmacks, it seemed like all that hard work had finally paid off.
The public outcry that ensued showed many Yukoners didn’t share that view.
The government received an earful from disgruntled voters during the 60-day consultation period.
They raised a host of environmental, health and safety concerns, but the prospect of fracking seemed to be what really hit a nerve.
It didn’t help that at the first public meeting government officials said opposition would not stop the exploration from going ahead. Assurances they’d use regulation and mitigation to control the impact didn’t seem to carry much weight.
The whole process has been kind of a crash course in the oil and gas industry and the speed to which it could take root.
In the end, Cathers had to decide whether to allow bids in all 12 of the areas, only some of the areas, or none of the areas.
Nobody put money on door number three – none of the areas – and yet to everyone’s great surprise that’s the one he picked.
A strange turn of events indeed.
The public has grown so accustomed to governments going through the motions of consultation, only to ignore all it hears, it’s a wonder people even still participate.
At the same time the government was soliciting opinions about this oil and gas proposal, it turned its back on years of work and consultation on the Peel watershed land use plan and public support for large-scale protection of that region.
The public was quick to pick up on the contradiction, and perhaps so did Cathers in the end.
By putting oil and gas development in southern Yukon on hold for the time being, he’s taken an important first step in restoring public confidence.
Not just in the consultation process, but in democracy itself.
The people who participated can now feel their time was well spent, that their voices were heard.
Now, if only the government would tell us who was behind the oil and gas requests that stirred this all up in the first place.