In case you haven’t heard, democracy in the Yukon is under attack.
Unelected, unaccountable planning commissions are running amok with crazy ideas about turning the whole territory into a park. A coalition of the NDP, Liberals and the Islamic State support this wily scheme, and plan to throw sharia law into the mix for good measure. The beheadings would have started by now, if not for Premier Darrell Pasloski and his team of democracy defenders bravely manning the ramparts.
Alright, we invented the bit about the Islamic State’s involvement. But the premier has offered an only slightly less hysterical storyline in his latest defence of his government’s decision to appeal the recent court decision over the fate of the Peel watershed.
The premier’s speechwriter must have hit a dry spell, because the latest offering feels like a lazy copy-and-paste job, with its deployment of hoary conservative cliches. Anyone familiar with populist shrieking over judicial activism will see the latest attack on the Peel planning commission fits the same template. The silly assertion that the NDP and Liberals are part of a coalition because they agree on an issue, meanwhile, is just one of the prime minister’s castaway talking points, although one that makes absolutely no sense in the current circumstances.
The premier says that a judge has robbed his government of its ability to make final decisions about the uses of Crown land. The implication here is that this is a broader issue than the Peel spat, and that the precedent will affect future land-use plans.
This is simply untrue. The Peel decision only restricts the territory’s actions in cases when our elected officials fail to spell out what they want to see in a regional plan at the appropriate time. In short, if public governments want to make the final call, all they must do is respect First Nation final agreements and participate in good-faith negotiations.
As we all know, the Yukon government refused to do this during seven years of planning talks. Instead, it waited until the planning process had wrapped up, then released its own plan that flipped earlier recommendations on their head, opening much of the region up to mining.
This isn’t the fault of the planning commission, which repeatedly pressed the government to table details about what it wanted, to no avail. This is the fault of the Yukon Party.
The courts have rightfully concluded that our government’s end-run of the planning process makes a mockery of the idea that First Nations have a meaningful say in the territory’s land-use planning. The Yukon government no longer even contests this point. Yet it insists it should be given a new chance to push its own plan for the watershed.
Appeals judges will doubtless ask themselves whether the government’s proposed remedy advances the cause of reconciliation with First Nations, or whether it meets the high standard of honourable behaviour expected when governments deal with matters of aboriginal rights. Clearly it doesn’t. Instead, it would reward bad behaviour. First Nations have a long track record of winning such court fights. It’s hard to imagine why the Peel case will end any differently.
Our premier knows this. He just can’t bear to admit it. It sounds much better to say, “We’re defending democracy against the dangerous whims of nasty, unelected officials” than the alternative: “We messed up big time during the Peel talks, but we’re too proud to admit it, so we’re going to fight a lengthy and ultimately doomed court battle in order to save face.”
The trouble with this approach is that it continues to eat away at the Yukon Party’s claim that they are masters of the territory’s economy. At the moment, Pasloski is effectively shouting to the world that the Yukon is no longer a safe place to do business.
It doesn’t matter that these comments are based upon faulty reasoning. They could still do harm, at a time when miners already face a tough enough go of raising money. As Samson Hartland, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines told us this week, “the attractiveness of the jurisdiction to invest in is continuing to fall by the minute as conflict continues to occur through the courtroom. … As we continue to battle these out, people are pushing the pause button on the jurisdiction and going elsewhere.”
The premier also has a flimsy claim to having a democratic mandate for his actions on the Peel. This is a guy who spent the first half of the last election refusing to answer questions about what he’d do with the Peel plan, claiming that to say anything would be inappropriate. Later, it is true, Pasloski came out swinging against the recommended plan, saying it would bankrupt the territory by setting off a cascade of lawsuits by angry miners. But Pasloski never offered any specifics about what he would do instead. As usual, he stuck to vague platitudes, promising to craft a plan that would be all things to all people.
As for the “coalition” nonsense? It’s hard to say what’s going on, but we’ll hazard a guess. The greatest threat facing the Yukon Party is that its soft supporters may drift over to the Liberals. Pasloski and his handlers know that this centre-right segment of the voting public would sooner support the Yukon Party than the NDP – think of people like ministers Scott Kent and Doug Graham, who were Liberals up until shortly before the last election, when they threw support behind the premier. So, by lumping the Liberals and NDP together, Pasloski helps create the impression that there’s only one home left for these residents, at the Yukon Party.
The trouble, of course, is that saying something doesn’t make it true. Perhaps the Liberals and NDP agree on the Peel watershed, but they disagree on other matters, like whether the territory should consider hiking mining royalties, an idea with which the NDP has flirted but the Liberals have rejected.
It would also be easy to pick subjects that the Yukon Party and the Liberals, or even the Yukon Party and NDP, agree upon. Based on the premier’s reasoning, more “coalitions” would have then just sprouted from the ground.