Peel fight part of broader effort to push development

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef: The Peel watershed lawsuit filed by the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society against the Yukon government is before the

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

The Peel watershed lawsuit filed by the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society against the Yukon government is before the Yukon Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs demand that the final recommended plan, prepared by the Peel River Watershed Planning Commission after seven years of inclusive consultation, be used. The Yukon government defends its right to unilaterally replace the final plan with their land use plan.

The final plan protected 80 per cent of the Peel watershed. The Yukon government’s plan opens up all but 29 per cent of the Peel to development and allows roads to be built in sensitive areas.

What will happen if Yukon wins this court case?

The federal Conservative government has had eight years to put all of its ducks in a row with the intention of making sure that regulations don’t get in the way of corporate wealth. They have buried attacks on environmental protections in Bill C-38 and Bill C-45. They have muzzled government scientists, de-funded important environmental laboratories and slashed funding for environmental research. The laying off of senior scientists in Fisheries and Oceans has cut off the head of that department, leaving it ineffective.

In 2012, the Fisheries and Oceans Act was amended. The purpose of the amendments was to focus attention away from healthy fish habitats to “protecting the productivity of recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries.” In March 2012, you told the Yukon News, “But no matter what changes lie in the Fisheries Act’s future, nothing will erode regional regimes.”

Can you truthfully make that statement today?

The Yukon government has resisted calls to put in place a lobbyist registry. Recently, the Yukon government met in secret with the federal Conservative government, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Mining Association of Canada, the Yukon Chamber of Mines, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and the Council of Yukon First Nations to discuss “streamlining” the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Board’s regulations and limiting its arms-length status. To whom does the Yukon government owe its allegiance?

Corporations have found their wish lists for environmental deregulation eagerly met by the federal Conservative government. For example, CAPP sent a letter to the federal government in 2010 stating that environmental assessments slowed down the pace of development and increased their costs. The “streamlining” of national environmental regulations and reduced protections for species at risk perfectly match requests made by that organization.

Resource extraction industries will only be as environmentally responsible as they are required to be by law. Julian Assange of Wikileaks recently leaked more secret Trans-Pacific Partnership documents to the press. Critics claim that under the deal, the economic health of corporations will trump environmental protections, aboriginal rights and sovereignty. This is not paranoia. This year, Canadian Press reported that Lone Pine Inc. has launched a $250 million lawsuit, under the North America Free Trade Agreement, against Quebec over its moratorium on fracking for natural gas under the St. Lawrence River.

A friend who works in the Fort Nelson area in a work camp told me that they take their trash off site and burn it. Some of the garbage is plastic and styrofoam. Consequently the smoke from the fires is toxic, which is why companies don’t want to expose workers to it. There are several camps housing workers for the fracking industry in this area. My friend says that they all do the same thing with their garbage. It is considered too costly to truck waste out.

So what will happen to the Peel should the Yukon and federal governments have their way?

How likely is it that resource extraction companies in the Peel will truck their trash out? Do you think they will voluntarily go out of their way to protect the environment? How much harm will be done to caribou herds as mining roads criss-cross their range? How many streams and rivers will be re-designated as “drainage ditches” and “flooded fields” to justify casual pollution?

Ryan, you sat on the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans when environmental protections in the Fisheries and Oceans Act were gutted. As such, you are one of the individuals directly responsible for making all of the above possible.

What will you do now to protect the Peel?

Linda Leon is a Whitehorse freelance writer.

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