A kick too far

For every Yukoner outraged by the territorial government's botched handling of the Peel watershed plan, there are probably many more who are simply puzzled.

For every Yukoner outraged by the territorial government’s botched handling of the Peel watershed plan, there are probably many more who are simply puzzled.

Why wait until the 11th hour of the planning process to say what you’d like, when it was not exactly a secret that the Yukon Party favoured allowing miners to have their way with the region?

And then why discard seven years of planning talks, knowing that this would provoke a lengthy court battle with affected First Nations and cast legal uncertainty over any development in the region?

In short, why punch yourself in the face, repeatedly, now and for many years to come?

The full story to all of this will probably never be told, because the politicians involved are unlikely to ever give a candid version of events. So here’s our best stab at it.

The Yukon Party’s brain trust must have decided early on that it was politically expedient to kick the can down the road when it came to making a decision on the Peel. Rather than say something of substance about what they wanted to do with the watershed, and deal with the inevitable backlash, it was much easier to make some vague comment about the importance of respecting the Umbrella Final Agreement and leave it at that.

After a while, all this can-kicking became something of a habit, until they ran out of road.

This sounds dense. And it is. But the Yukon Party is not exceptional for drawing out difficult political decisions – consider how our world’s governments dither when it comes to addressing big issues like climate change.

Also remember that our premier during much of the planning process, Dennis Fentie, had plenty else on his mind other than the Peel watershed during the end of his reign.

His trusty lieutenant, Brad Cathers, had quit cabinet in a spat over the premier’s covered-up plans to privatize Yukon Energy. Conservative stalwart Willard Phelps was busy blasting Fentie for being a “tinpot dictator.” As Fentie struggled to keep a growing rebellion at bay, he likely did not see the value in also setting off a big fight over the Peel.

It nevertheless remains bizarre that the Yukon government said as little as it did during the planning process. What’s more, territorial officials and our resources minister of the day, Patrick Rouble, insisted it was their obligation under the Umbrella Final Agreement to not say anything too specific.

Well, we’ve read the UFA and can’t find any passage to support this interpretation, so we suspect this all amounted to a dodge that was convenient at the time. This view is shared by Thomas Berger, the esteemed aboriginal law expert who is helping to represent affected First Nations in their lawsuit against the territory over the Peel plan. Berger holds that the time for the territory to share its views was during the planning process, and it squandered the opportunity.

Our present cabinet likes to make it sound as if they spelled out where they stood on the Peel during the territorial election. But, up until the halfway mark of the campaign, Premier Darrell Pasloski stuck to the old Yukon Party script, insisting it would be irresponsible for him to take a stand on the Peel watershed. Yet he later did take a position, warning that protecting the watershed would set off an avalanche of lawsuits from miners with claims in the region.

By Pasloski’s own reasoning, it was irresponsible to show his cards as he did. But we think it’s more likely that this “irresponsible” line was just another excuse to avoid having to say what he meant. It wasn’t true when Fentie or Rouble said it. It wasn’t true when Pasloski said it, either.

Not that it fooled anybody. After all, the Fentie regime suppressed information on the watershed’s ecological value during planning talks, and welcomed with open arms meetings with mining lobbyists while snubbing wilderness outfitters who wanted the area protected from development. Heck, as early as 2009, top officials with the territory’s oil and gas branch concluded it wasn’t even worth reading the commission’s recommendations, because there was no way the government would approve such a conservation-minded plan.

Later, after the election, the Pasloski government unilaterally wrote its own plan, which misleadingly labels areas as wilderness that would be open for development. It nearly offers the opposite level of protection as proposed by the planning commission – just 29 per cent would be off-limits to new staking, compared to 80 per cent – yet the government maintains it is merely “modifying” the previous work. And whereas a key feature of the commission’s plan was its vision to keep large blocks of wilderness intact by banning roads, the government’s plan could allow roads throughout the whole region.

Yet we’re assured this is a plan for everybody, too. No wonder many people aren’t buying it.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

Most of Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 graduates. The former students were welcomed back and honoured by staff at the school on Oct. 14 with a personalized grad ceremony for each graduate. (Submitted)
Individual Learning Centre grads honoured

Members of the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 were welcomed… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Most Read