by David Loeks
Divisive, dishonest, and likely illegal.
Strong words for the Yukon government’s alternative plan for the Peel Watershed, and richly deserved.
Its divisiveness is self-evident, flying in the face of the First Nations governments, and ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of most Yukoners. By rejecting the final recommended plan written by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, the Yukon government came out solidly on the side of elitism and anti-democratic governance.
The people in the cabinet in effect claim that they understand what is good for the public better than the public does. How cabinet became gifted with such insight is not clear. The commission, on the other hand, relied on seven years of research, open processes, and public input to detect the common interest.
“Dishonest” comes clear on examining the fine print. The government’s “plan” promises what it does not deliver. It claims to preserve the Peel’s wilderness character by placing 44 per cent of the land in “Restricted Use Wilderness” areas, and 29 per cent in Protected Areas. It even introduces a brand new Wild Rivers Park status for the Hart, Wind, Bonnet Plume, Snake and Peel Rivers.
Sounds good, but the reality is different. Yukoners told the commission that they understand “wilderness” to be big, undeveloped, and roadless, and a “Protected Area” to be wilderness that has legal certainty to stay that way.
In the Yukon government’s “plan”, Restricted Use Wilderness Areas are devoted to development – exploration, mines, roads. Worse, the Protected Areas can accept all season access roads anywhere. Since surface access is promised to all mining claims, the “Wild Rivers Parks” will have to have roads in them too. There is no other way to get roads to mining claims east of the Wind River.
Because roads are the nub of the issue, wilderness protection drops from 80 per cent in the commission’s plan to precisely zero in the government’s version. Zero.
Finally, “likely illegal.” The First Nations announced Monday that they must take the Yukon government to court to defend the integrity of the land claims settlement agreements. This is serious litigation and the Yukon government’s cabinet was warned about this for the past 24 months.
Thanks to these agreements, we’ve enjoyed social and economic stability in the Yukon for 20 years. Who would knowingly risk this? Especially since there is no economic need to open the Peel at this time? The Yukon has had full employment and a booming economy without industry active in the Peel watershed.
The commission’s plan is recognized by most Yukoners as a fair and balanced compromise that preserves all future options, even for development. Why provoke a lawsuit now?
That sound you hear might be that of corporate briefcases slamming shut.
Way to go, fellas.
David Loeks is the former chair of the Peel Watershe d Planning Commission.