It’s not up to the Liberals to drop the Peel case but they could have done a better job saying so

As predicted, navigating the thorny final chapter of the Peel appeal has turned out to be challenging for the new government.

As predicted, navigating the thorny final chapter of the Peel appeal has turned out to be challenging for the new government. Last week, the Yukon government filed its factum with the Supreme Court of Canada and held a press conference to explain its decision to continue the previous government’s opposition to the appeal brought by First Nations and environmental groups.

The legal argument, contained in a factum filed with the court, represented a fully defensible response to the dilemma the government faces.

After all, the Peel appeal isn’t just about the Peel. It’s about the land use planning process and the adverse precedent that might be set if the appellants were able to argue their case unopposed. The government was, in my view at least, correct to argue that despite the breach committed by the previous government, the process ought to be returned to an early stage. I see little inconsistency in arguing that the Court of Appeal’s decision ought to be upheld while rejecting the previous government’s plans for development.

But the government’s statements at last week’s press conference have proven a tad more controversial. Not only did the government concede that it could not simply accept the plan proposed by the Peel planning commission (as it promised in its platform in the recent election), the new justice minister mused that the plan that might ultimately emerge from this process may not be the same as that which was previously proposed by the commission.

The opposition Yukon Party was quick to pounce, accusing the Liberals of “flip flopping” on its election promises and (gasp!) continuing to do exactly what the Pasloski government had done.

So did the Liberals break their promise?

In a literal sense, they have. The new government will not — and they say cannot — simply “accept the final report of the original Peel Land Use Planning Commission” as they explicitly promised in their platform. That is unquestionably a broken promise.

And once again we have an example of a very specific guarantee being made during the heat and excitement of an election campaign that, in hindsight, ought to have been framed in a more cautious and narrow manner (although it seems likely that the NDP would have pounced on any attempts by the Liberals to insert any nuance into its position on the Peel, as they did with fracking, but I digress).

But it is not fully clear if the Liberals are just being overly cautious in their wording or are truly backtracking on the substance of their promise and have some sort of hidden agenda to allow more development in the region than the original plan allowed. Or perhaps they are simply over-lawyering the appeal.

But excessive cynicism isn’t my thing so — like others including the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and the Yukon Conservation Society — I want to see how this all plays out before writing off the broader principles of the government’s promise.

The Liberals still have plenty of opportunities to stay loyal to the substance of their commitment to those Yukoners who want to see a plan for the Peel that emphasizes protection over development.

It is, after all, technically true that it isn’t within the government’s range of options to simply accept the recommended plan and call it a day. There is a process that needs to play out before that option will again be in front of them.

And it is also true that, if the process is sent back to an earlier stage in the proceeding, the government may need to consult with affected First Nations who may propose changes to the plan. The process has already been derailed and by putting the matter in front of the court we can’t be sure how it will all shake out.

Despite what the official Opposition is implying, neither the arguments made in the new government’s factum, nor the statements made at its press conference mean that the Liberals have any intention of introducing a plan resembling the now-infamous Yukon Party proposal, which ultimately is what those following this case would be most concerned about. Legally this may be about land use planning, but politically it is about protecting the Peel.

But by being coy about where this is all going, the Liberals are certainly inviting people to draw negative inferences.

I appreciate the reasons for this and I agree with the government’s decision to continue the defence of the Court of Appeal decision. Its hands are more or less tied by the fact that the appellants insisted on moving forward with the appeal.

But Premier Sandy Silver and company could have done a better job communicating their rationale and assuring Yukoners that they hadn’t been duped by a party that says one thing to get elected and does another.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read