What the ‘Peel trial’ is about

David Loeks The "Peel trial" is underway this week. After years of public controversy, this is coming to a head. These hearings are not about the contents of the planning commission's final recommended plan. That matter has been heard and judged in the c

David Loeks

The “Peel trial” is underway this week. After years of public controversy, this is coming to a head.

These hearings are not about the contents of the planning commission’s final recommended plan. That matter has been heard and judged in the court of professional review and public opinion. That verdict is in: the Yukon public and four of the five Parties (that is, the four First Nation sponsors) overwhelmingly accept the plan as reflecting the public interest. The Yukon Government is the exception, and their ersatz alternative plan was rejected in this same court.

So what is the Peel trial about? From a layman’s understanding (I am no lawyer) on the surface it addresses points of process in the Yukon land claims Umbrella Final Agreement. These are technical details and perhaps not very exciting, but on them, many important matters hang.

Two First Nation governments, along with two environmental organizations, have taken the Yukon government to court. They claim the territory failed to follow the legally required land-use planning process set out in the UFA and that the Yukon government’s alternative “plan” is invalid.

Setting aside the Peel plan for a moment, the First Nations have to draw a line on the government’s challenge to the UFA. If the territory can play loose with its details and with its guiding philosophy, the UFA is a shaky document.

At issue: the First Nations believe the UFA intends that public lands and resources to be managed by the territory and the First Nations cooperatively. The Yukon government claims the UFA intends that the territory manages public lands and the First Nations manage their lands independently. This lawsuit will clarify which interpretation of the UFA will hold. At stake is the edifice of self-government that we in the Yukon have been painstakingly erecting for the past generation.

Back to the Peel trial, if the plaintiffs are correct, the commission’s plan – not the Yukon government’s alternative – will be the binding outcome of the planning process. The UFA makes plain that land use planning in the Yukon must be a product of the UFA planning process. This is equally true for Yukon government and for First Nations land. So an important question is whether the Yukon government’s “plan” for the land it manages is a modification of the commission’s work or not. Can it be considered a product of the UFA planning process? Or is it is such a departure that it is a “wildcat” plan written outside of the bounds of the UFA? If it is, it is invalid.

The Yukon government’s lawyers will assert that the territory has been following the UFA process correctly and that they are entitled to modify the commission’s plan as they see fit. Technical details aside, beneath the government position is a philosophical challenge to the UFA as a template for co-management with First Nations.

Not being tested in the courts (but in the court of public opinion) is a conviction held by cabinet that politicians have an unfettered right to make far reaching decisions over public resources. Even if most people strongly disagree. Even if their decisions are short-sighted and harmful.

In other words, cabinet – a group of people elected for just four years – claim the right to mar assets that should be a legacy for future generations. Over a seven-year process, the Yukon people clearly said that they valued the wilderness character of the Peel watershed and that they saw no reason to change it at this time.

Cabinet wants to ignore and override the public’s wishes: “vote us out if you don’t like it,” they say. But here is the rub: politicians’ accountability is measured in just a few years. The consequences of their short-term decisions can persist on the Peel landscape for centuries.

The Peel trial would not be necessary had the Yukon government shown a decent respect for binding agreements. Had it participated squarely in the process, the government would have learned that Yukoners can identify the public interest through good land use planning.

A key objective set out by the parties for the Peel watershed plan is to sustain the ecological integrity of the region. To do this we need humility, ethical stewardship, and cautious decision-making. The Yukon people don’t need swagger from their government, they need it to be a cooperative partner.

That is what is at stake in the Peel trial.

David Loeks was the chairman

of the Peel Watershed

Planning Commission.

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

Just Posted

Wyatt's World for Oct. 28, 2020.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 28.… Continue reading

Yukon Child Care Board chair Amy Ryder says the board could be playing a bigger role in childcare policy making if they had more financial support from the Yukon government. (Submitted)
Yukon Child Care Board asks for larger role in annual report

The board is asking for a larger budget to increase outreach and advice

Yukon’s clocks will no longer change in March and November but will remain permanently on Pacific Daylight Saving Time. (Courtesy Yukon government)
Off the clock: Yukon prepares to end seasonal time changes

Starting on Nov. 1 Yukon will be one hour ahead of Vancouver and two hours ahead of Alaska

Dawson City as scene from West Dawson. Art Webster, the vice-chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission resigned last month over the Yukon governments unwillingness to pause speculative staking. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Vice-chair resigns from Dawson land-use planning commission

NDP warns that not pausing mining activity is the road to a second Peel decision

The opening ceremonies of the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg on July 28, 2017. The 2021 Canada Summer Games have officially been rescheduled for Aug. 6 to 21, 2022, exactly one year from the date the national competition was originally set to take place in the Niagara region of Ontario. (Canada Summer Games/Flickr)
Canada Summer Games dates set for 2022 but uncertainty remains for Yukon athletes

Yukon athletes continue waiting to get back into schools

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council passed first reading on a bylaw for the designation change at its Oct. 26 meeting, prompting an upcoming public hearing on Nov. 23 ahead of second reading on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Local contractors will be given an advantage on a contract for the design and construction services that will see a new reception building at Robert Service Campground decided city councillors during the Oct. 26 council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local firms will get advantage on contract for new Robert Service Campground building

Yukon-based companies competing for contract for new reception building will receive 20 extra points

Fallen trees due to strong winds are seen leaning on to power lines which caused some power outages around the territory on Oct. 26. (Courtesy of ATCO)
Wind knocks out power around the Yukon

High winds on Oct. 26 knocked out power to Faro, parts of Whitehorse and beyond

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read