Another inconvenient truth

Maybe the Yukon Party government is trying to score points for consistency in its handling of the creation of a land-use plan for the Peel watershed.

Maybe the Yukon Party government is trying to score points for consistency in its handling of the creation of a land-use plan for the Peel watershed. Having bungled the process from the start, the territory seems determined to continue in a similar style right to the bitter, drawn-out end.

The latest mini-scandal, as we first reported in Wednesday’s edition, involves how the government stripped useful numbers from the report it prepared from the final consultation process. Why it did so seems pretty obvious.

The results show an overwhelming majority of respondents supporting the final recommended plan to protect four-fifths of the vast swath of wilderness in the territory’s northeast. The Yukon Party, meanwhile, has made it no secret that it intends to push ahead with its own plan, which would see far more of the region open to mining.

But if you want to sum up what’s really wrong with the government’s approach to the Peel, look no further than Environment Minister Currie Dixon’s explanation as to why the government made those inconvenient figures disappear from the final consultation report.

“The numbers don’t matter,” he explained. Well, the author of the report apparently begged to differ when he initially included them. While acknowledging that the consultation wasn’t a statistically valid poll, he concluded that including the numbers was “one of the few effective ways of distilling tens of thousands of words into a few pages of meaningful data.”

If Dixon were being honest, he would have answered, “The numbers didn’t reflect what we wanted to see, so we took them out.” Or perhaps: “We just can’t resist the urge to meddle in this stuff.”

Various revisions of the consultation report tell a story of their own. As later drafts were produced, the number of respondents who oppose the final recommended plan drift upward. You can almost hear the government officials issuing orders to their consultant to massage the data to better match the government’s views.

Yet these numbers still remained stubbornly short compared to the number of expressions of support for the recommended plan. So the figures were axed.

This behaviour fits a pattern. Recall how the previous premier, Dennis Fentie, suppressed a report prepared by the Environment Department that described the benefits of protecting the watershed.

In both cases, it seems clear that the government was expected by other participants in the process to serve as a facilitator of valuable information for all the parties involved. Instead, it stooped to its own narrow, partisan interests by clawing back data that didn’t suit its fancy. It’s doubtful that the signatories of the Umbrella Final Agreement envisioned this kind of card-stacking would be part of the deal.

This wouldn’t be nearly so upsetting if the Yukon Party ministers were actually upfront with their intentions. But that’s rarely been the case. As has become typical, Dixon topped things off by claiming, hilariously: “We have been nothing but forthcoming and open with this information.”

The young minister qualified this by noting how the government had published all individual responses online, along with the data that didn’t prove to be a nuisance.

For example, the territory didn’t mind providing detailed information about where correspondences had sent their responses from, because that allowed them to declaim how some people had – quelle horreur! – written from Outside. Why the hometowns of respondents is more relevant than what respondents said has yet to be clearly explained by the government, presumably because this position is too silly to properly explain.

Instead, the government takes refuge in the tried-and-true tactics of the propagandist. Say something with enough confidence and repeat it often enough, and people will believe you, or so the theory holds.

This sometimes works, but it’s worn pretty thin throughout the seven years of the Peel planning process.

It doesn’t matter how often the government claims it will produce a plan that will magically make all parties involved happy. Adults in the room realize that the Peel is an issue in which painful trade-offs are inevitable. Miners, outfitters, wilderness paddlers and First Nation people with ancient ties to the area have divergent, conflicting interests.

It doesn’t matter how often the government claims it’s followed the Umbrella Final Agreement. The courts have ruled that following the letter of the law isn’t good enough when it comes to the government’s dealings with First Nations. Instead, it must also live up to the spirit of signed treaties.

It’s pretty clear the territory didn’t meet that standard when it declined to offer much concrete criticism of the recommended plan while it was being produced. Instead, it preferred to wait until the planning commission’s job was done before unveiling an entirely different plan it intended to use.

Maybe this seemed to be a convenient way to duck controversy at the time, but now that negotiations with First Nations over the Peel seem inevitably headed for a stalemate and long-running court challenge, it all seems awfully shortsighted.

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