Peel by the numbers

Open letter to Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski: I heard you speak on the radio last week after the packed gallery for the first spring sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly had conveniently emptied at the end of question period.

Open letter to Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski:

I heard you speak on the radio last week after the packed gallery for the first spring sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly had conveniently emptied at the end of question period (it certainly could not have been called answer period, as you and Brad Cathers so clearly illustrated).

You said that the people of the Yukon voted for the Yukon Party’s management of the Peel watershed when you won a majority of seats in the 2011 election – implying that this win meant that a majority of Yukoners stand behind you and therefore you do not need to listen to those now protesting.

Hearing this made me upset enough to write this response, to remind you that just because the Yukon Party gained a majority of seats, you did not gain a majority of Yukon votes. The fact that you have the majority of the seats in the legislature is a result of our current and, I believe, flawed electoral system.

The Yukon Party won with only 40 per cent of the popular vote – that is not a majority and does not mean that your party is representing the majority of the people of the Yukon. The fact that the Yukon Party is in power should not imply that your views and policies are representing the majority of us, the people of the Yukon.

From the people of the Yukon, meanwhile, I am heartened and encouraged to see the number of privately-created petitions, letters and media ads from the other 60 per cent of us, created and paid for by individual citizens who are coming together and putting their time, money and effort where their mouth is to take a stand on what is important to them and to ensure that their views are being clearly presented. Whether their voices are being clearly heard is another question altogether.

Here is my voice: I had the amazing opportunity to fly into McClusky Lake and to paddle down the Wind and Peel rivers last summer. Some have stated that tourists and adventurers want to maintain the Peel watershed for our own selfish use as a wilderness playground. This is untrue – I am not protesting development in the Peel based on my own personal attachment to this region or even on any likelihood that I will return there.

It is an unbelievably important and beautiful region that deserves protection in its own right. However, spending over two weeks in the area myself did give me valuable personal insight into exactly what this contested area is like and just what we have to lose.

The thought of this rich wilderness region having landing strips and mining camps and drilling occurring, being exposed to radioactivity, polluting the soil and the water, displacing and destroying the wildlife all for short-term financial gain is sickening to me.

Midway down the Wind River, I woke up one morning and looked out of my tent. And I saw a scene before me – a pristine river valley and mountains glowing in the morning sun – that literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.

Despite travels and many beautiful wilderness experiences throughout the Yukon, Canada and worldwide, I have never experienced the awe that I felt at that moment. I was made speechless by the realization that, “This is what the whole entire world was once like.” We no longer have the whole entire world of unspoiled wilderness, but we do have this and this is so important to save.

And if you want the numbers on that, Premier Pasloski, the Peel watershed constitutes 14 per cent of the Yukon. The Peel commission’s final recommended plan is seeking protection for 11 per cent of the territory. Omitting areas already protected, currently almost 88 per cent of the Yukon is open to industrial development.

According to information from the Yukon’s Department of the Environment, community and web-based consultations of the Peel plan in 2010 found 79 per cent of Yukoners wish to preserve 100 per cent of the watershed with an additional nine per cent accepting the recommended 80 per cent protection, which leaves just 12 per cent of Yukoners seeking less than 80 per cent protection of this region. Those are the numbers. That is “the majority.”

Oh, but I heard you don’t count polls, right, Premier Pasloski? Never even look at them?

Then maybe we should have other democratic avenues of expression, other ways to count votes. Like referendums. Or recalls.

Anni Ellistont