Dennis Fentie has always been a good talker.
Quick thinking, clever and roguishly charming — some called the guy the legislature’s very own Kris Kristofferson (and he kinda liked it).
Experience has only made him more formidable in the house.
Listen to him for a minute, or two, and you appreciate how good a talker he’s become.
But you should judge the guy by his actions, not his words.
They reveal his failings as premier.
And they are significant.
Consider his riff on a recent Supreme Court slapdown his government received recently.
The Yukon did not meet its duty to consult the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, wrote Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale after examining the awarding of an agricultural lease in First Nation’s traditional territory.
“What is required is that the Yukon government accept its legal duty to engage in a meaningful consultation directly with the First Nation,” wrote Veale.
It must deal with First Nations as governments, wrote Veale.
“Courtesy consultations,” do not meet the government’s obligations, he added.
In this case, the government broke the law.
In the legislature, Fentie simply waved away Veale’s decision.
“I thought the courts provided rulings, not advice,” he said in response to grilling from Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.
“The government side in no way views this as advice from the court. It’s a ruling on a specific matter with respect to a specific case.”
That’s a paper-thin interpretation, and almost completely sidelines Veale’s decision.
And that’s Fentie’s goal.
In his world, laws that hinder business deals should be ignored.
And protocols and memorandums of understanding are simply paper, political tools useful to conjure the impression of harmony with First Nations, but easily tossed aside when someone needs something.
Like an agricultural lease.
There’s good reason for Fentie’s tough talk on the subject.
These days, Fentie is trying to reclaim his government’s authority in economic and transportation matters.
He wants to curb First Nation participation in those affairs.
Ironically, he’s the guy who signed away the territory’s power in the first place.
That happened with the Kaska bilateral agreement that Fentie struck shortly after being elected.
Contrary to the painstakingly negotiated land claim agreements with other First Nations — which guarded the territory’s authority over Yukon lands — Fentie’s one-off deal with his constituent First Nation, the Kaska, ceded substantial control over resource development in its “traditional territory.”
Traditional territory is important.
It’s something most First Nations reluctantly gave up in favour of self-government agreements on specific settlement lands.
The Kaska bilateral lapsed and Fentie wants it forgotten.
But government-to-government deals don’t work that way.
Little Salmon/Carmacks has just blocked the ag lease in court because Fentie’s crew failed to properly consult on the development within its “traditional territory.”
Fentie suggests Veale’s ruling is a laser-precise interpretation of a specific incident.
“This is not a question of our obligation to consult with First Nations overall,” he said.
On October 13, 2003, to contain fallout from his misguided Kaska deal, Fentie negotiated protocols with eight First Nations with land claim agreements, including Little Salmon/Carmacks.
He’d like to dismiss them.
This week’s ruling proves he can’t.
The protocol said: “The parties intend that consultations between them will be meaningful and will enhance government-to-government relations.”
That was the deal then. It’s in force today.
And it’s very detailed (you can read it at www.eco.gov.yk.ca/landclaims/consultation_protocol.html).
Fentie talks a good game about the Yukon government representing all citizens’ interests.
That’s the way it used to be. It’s the way it should be.
But Fentie’s let’s-make-a-deal politicking has eroded territorial power in such matters.
Fentie has handed First Nations the right to participate in economic deals on their traditional territory, which overlaps most Crown land. They can block projects if they don’t like them.
That, in economic parlance, diminishes certainty for businesses seeking to operate in the Yukon.
Fentie’s signed the deals. First Nations are enforcing their rights in court.
And the courts are upholding those deals.
They are legally binding.
Fentie likes to play fast and loose with the law.
But you can’t fight the law.
The law wins.
And, in this case, Yukon economic development is compromised. (RM)