The Fentie government should come out of the shadows and tell citizens where it stands on protecting the Peel River Watershed.
It’s beyond time it did so.
In late 2009, the commission studying the issue recommended protecting 80 per cent of the watershed.
The public was consulted through the late summer.
And senior bureaucrats from the Yukon government, the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwich’in and Gwichin Tribal Council have formed a Senior Liaison Committee to hash out the various positions and advise their leaders.
That group was supposed to meet after the public consultations wrapped up in September.
But according to aboriginal leaders the committee unexpectedly went dormant.
Senior territorial officials begged off meeting, saying they were confused by a letter from the aboriginal governments, which provided their position and asked for the Yukon’s, said Chief Simon Mervyn of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun.
The groups are supposed to submit their comments on the recommended plan by December 15.
With that deadline looming, and with the Senior Liaison Committee in limbo through October and November, the chiefs scheduled a meeting with Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Patrick Rouble to figure out what the holdup was.
They cannot continue to discuss the Peel without knowing the Yukon government’s position on protecting the watershed, said Mervyn.
They were to meet November 16 at 9 a.m. at the cabinet offices.
Tr’ondek Chief Eddie Taylor and Mervyn drove from their respective communities to Whitehorse.
Arriving at the scheduled time, they were told by a ministerial assistant – Mervyn is not sure who it was – that Rouble was too busy to meet them. No further explanation was given. No alternative meeting date was suggested.
Rouble has been asked for comment, and has refused to provide one.
(Another meeting to discuss economic development issues in the north Yukon, this one with Highways and Public Works Minister Archie Lang at 1:30 p.m. the same day, was also cancelled. According to Mervyn, Lang said he couldn’t meet them without Premier Dennis Fentie, who was too busy. Officials could not tell Mervyn when Fentie had an opening in his calendar.)
The chiefs are, understandably, frustrated and insulted by the double snub.
Governments that are supposed to be working together, aren’t, said Mervyn.
And, if the government keeps stalling on the Peel, then it should extend the staking moratorium in the region another year, said Mervyn.
But that’s getting ahead of the game.
The public has expressed a desire to protect the Peel.
The aboriginal leaders want the entire region protected.
The mining industry opposes protecting the region.
And the Yukon government? Well, we don’t know. It’s the sole holdout.
It’s time for the Fentie government’s dithering to end.
To provide certainty to industry, aboriginal governments and the public, it must lift the fog of doubt and simply say how much of the Peel Watershed it is willing to protect.
If any at all.