Outfitters Chris and Sharron McKinnon are caught in a moment not of their making.
There is nothing to suggest they are anything other than a decent couple trying to float a business in the remote Yukon bush.
According to a letter from the couple (see page 8), they donate meat to the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation.
They encourage clients to visit the wider territory.
They support and love the territory. They consider it home.
You can’t take issue with that.
You can take issue with their cabins.
They built them in the bush over the last couple of years. They failed to get the proper documentation.
And, in doing so, they are guilty of naivete, at least.
And they will probably pay for that.
But they are not wholly responsible.
See, the affair raises an interesting question: why would a couple build a sophisticated camp, including a two-storey cook cabin, on a Canadian heritage river without any official written permission?
The answer: it is common practice.
The McKinnons talked to the lands branch and other outfitters. This is not in dispute.
They also consulted the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
“We believed we were doing nothing wrong with building a cook cabin for our outfitting business,” the McKinnons wrote.
Because the Yukon government has failed to do its job. Again.
The government’s responsibility is pretty straightforward.
It must ensure there is a well-defined process for dispensing land in the territory.
It should, through consultation, determine what lands are available for outfitters, cabin seekers, farmers and all other interested parties.
The process should be open, ensuring land is available to everyone, not just those with special interests.
The process must be, in common parlance, transparent.
But so far, the government has steadfastly refused to engage in any such land-planning exercises.
Once land is identified for various interests, there must be clear rules for dispensing it.
All responsible agencies must be aware of those rules.
All agencies must enforce the rules.
They must all work together to ensure the smooth transfer of the property to the buyers, or leasers.
The Yukon government took on responsibility for managing Crown land from Ottawa in 2003.
It has botched the job.
The land-advisory review committee was replaced by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
The transition wasn’t smooth.
So, today we’re left trying to figure out how the government handles applications submitted during that time. The land advisory committee didn’t exist, and neither did YESAB.
So who reviews the applications? Are they reviewed at all, or just rubber stamped?
The outfitter land-application policy was similarly foisted on the public with little consultation.
Again, the government’s ham-fisted and secretive implementation created the impression of a gimme for outfitters — that they could annex land not available to other groups.
In the Yukon, people love to grouse about red tape and rules.
These days, the government itself has an aversion to procedure. It likes to wing it.
Unfortunately, that does everyone a disservice.
The McKinnons believe they are being targeted because they live five months of the year in Alberta.
In fact, the McKinnons are being targeted because, in the absence of clear rules, they erected an illegal cabin and it was found. And someone complained.
And recently, in the same area, there was a similar case of a guy building a cabin in the woods.
It, too, was found.
Like the McKinnons, he lacked the appropriate paperwork. And the Yukon government burned it to the ground.
That’s the precedent.
And it should make everyone with a cabin in the remote bush more than a little nervous.
It should make the government nervous too.
It has failed to establish a workable land-disposition process.
The resulting anarchy has started to hurt people.
The Yukon Party government bears sole responsibility for that.
And until it gets its act together and lays out some clear rules, through appropriate public consultation, it will bear the brunt of the public anger. (RM)