The premier has argued that rewriting the Peel plan in a way that dramatically revises the intent of the plan was done to achieve balance. By balance he means providing access to the Peel watershed for mineral exploration and mine development and the associated infrastructure.
He is basing these arguments on the outdated principle of free-entry mineral exploration. Free entry provides access to virtually 85 per cent of the Yukon landscape for mineral exploration and related mine development. (Fifteen per cent set aside in National Parks and Class A Settlement lands)
Eighty-five per cent does not represent balance in my mind or in the view of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission members who took six years to hear and understand the notion of balance from a wide representation of Yukon citizens.
It is time for the premier to re-examine the free-entry principle. The mineral exploration and mining industries lobby and argue strenuously to retain the free-entry system, claiming that free access is essential to an active mining economy. They base this argument on the fact minerals are almost always hidden underground and the precise location of most mineral resources is not known.
Exploration interests do not know for sure which minerals may be found in an area, what their value is, what extraction techniques would be used and what the economics would be … therefore, most of the Yukon should be open to mineral exploration.
This focus on speculative mineral values denies other well-established values such as those based on undisturbed wilderness and natural environments. The Peel plan identifies many of these values and proposes to withdraw parts of the area from staking, mineral exploration and infrastructure development.
Many other jurisdictions limit free access and still have vibrant mining industries. Retaining the free-entry system for such a large proportion of the Yukon doesn’t consider or respect the values of many other qualities that are contrary to mining activities. The Peel plan identifies a number of these values.
Isn’t it time for the Yukon government to rethink free entry and the associated privileged access for the mining industry? Isn’t it time for the premier to realize that balance does not mean free entry to the vast minority of the Yukon? Isn’t it time to value natural settings and wilderness?
The minerals are not going anywhere, but wilderness can easily disappear. Isn’t it time to accept the principles of the Peel plan and recognize that the plan represents the voice of the majority of Yukoners?