In March, deputy ministers from Community Services and Energy Mines and Resources got together and figured out how they would work nicely together.
The nine promises on the one-page document were provoked by a damning 55-page independent report by Marsh Lake-based Spin Drift Business Enterprises.
It rapped officials’ knuckles near the point of bleeding.
The independent review laid out a dazzling array of policy and communication problems within the department.
It suggests the government’s land-disposition process is in near-anarchy.
It is, therefore, hard to ignore.
“At present, officials see the two departments acting defensively, ‘like two separate governments’ with little attempt to integrate their land-disposition roles, in an environment where corporate knowledge is not shared, where there is poor understanding of authority levels and where personal agendas are predominant in some areas of both departments.
“Many of those interviewed pointed to differing department philosophies with ‘different values respecting client service and timing of dealing with applications.’”
There is duplication between the Lands Act and the Subdivision Act, yet each has a separate and distinct role in the land disposition review process, said the report.
“There is a lack of overall and clear direction” with respect to the land disposition program.
“No overall land management or land disposition policies.”
“The application process for land in the Yukon is complex, lengthy and often confusing.”
“No legislation, written policies or procedures could be located which guides the development of local area plans…”
And on it goes.
It is, frankly, not a pretty picture.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang is responsible for the bungling.
In truth, Community Services Minister Glenn Hart should share responsibility. But he’s second banana, for two reasons.
First, Hart is part owner of Whitehorse’s Meadow Lakes Golf & Country Club, which is involved in land development, so he’s handed off a large chunk of his ministerial duties as they pertain to land development.
Lang took over Hart’s duties.
Second, Hart’s Community Services has been whipped into submission by Lang’s alpha Energy, Mines and Resources department.
From the independent report: “some interviewed feel that EMR became the government’s ‘starship department’ (after devolution in April 2003) and there was/is the perception that, since then, EMR has been trying to ‘bully’ or take over the land disposition roles found in Community Services.”
Within the corporate environment there is a “poor understanding of authority levels” and “‘personal agendas’ are predominant in some areas of both departments.”
Lang’s department wants to hand out land unless someone shows compelling reasons it shouldn’t be handed out, whereas Community Services pays closer attention to the regulations.
And so, within the last few years, we’ve seen a growing list of controversial and oft-bungled land deals.
Spurred on by promises directly from Lang, the Yukon Agricultural Association made a failed play for 45 hectares of land within the Gunnar Nilsson and Mickey Lammers Research Forest on the Mayo Road.
There’s another agricultural lease on Shallow Bay that was turned down by an independent review panel, and then approved by one of Lang’s deputies. It, too, has raised eyebrows.
There are several other unorthodox agricultural land applications that are now being opposed by local conservation and First Nation groups.
There was a controversial residential lot play up the Fish Lake Road that Whitehorse council managed to hold off.
There was another questionable land application down the Annie Lake Road.
There are questions surrounding another rushed 20-lot residential development on the Mayo Road.
And there is the divisive big game outfitter land lease program, which has been drafted by Lang’s department based on federal consultations.
However, it was recently revealed Lang’s Energy, Mines and Resources department was not given access to all the federal information before drafting the policy.
And there was a private developer who obtained a letter from Lang giving him permission to ask Whitehorse officials to rezone the land for development on behalf of the territory.
Amid this bedlam, clearheaded folks might suggest that the department strike a task force to smooth the whole imbroglio before handing out any more land.
But, for some reason, Lang isn’t interested in fixing the mess he’s overseen.
The Spin Drift report was delivered to Lang in January.
The deputies signed off on their nine promises in March.
On May 11, New Democrat Steve Cardiff got wind of it, and asked Lang to release the report.
Lang said he’d release the document as soon as it was ready.
He made no mention of the deputies’ fix, and he never released the report.
Today, given its contents, the affair looks like a coverup.
As well, it took government communications officials a “long time” to uncover the deputies’ joint undertaking, which, to us, undermines the two departments’ commitment to adhere to its promises.
Which begs the question, why?
Well, fixing the problems will hold up land requests.
And, handing out land is one of the government’s priorities.
Some applicants sat beside Lake Laberge MLA and Health Minister Brad Cathers while he was announcing his intention to run in the upcoming territorial election.
“It is my firm belief that every Yukoner should be able to acquire their own piece of land, and that this can be done without unduly impacting the interests of existing land holders, land users and wildlife habitat,” said Cathers during the meeting, which was held a couple of weeks ago.
Sure, but before people can get land, there must be clear rules to avoid the appearance of favouritism.
Under Lang’s direction, the public’s faith in the process has, understandably, eroded.
And big changes have to happen before public faith in the process is restored.
Until then, anarchy rules.
And, while the bedlam may further the interests of a few, it’s bad for the territory as a whole.