Which Peel plan is democratic?

David Loeks In a recent "Second Thoughts" column, Graham Lang makes his case that the Yukon government's version of a "Peel plan" is not undemocratic. He frames the widespread public criticism of the Yukon government's document as an attack on the legiti

David Loeks

In a recent “Second Thoughts” column, Graham Lang makes his case that the Yukon government’s version of a “Peel plan” is not undemocratic.

He frames the widespread public criticism of the Yukon government’s document as an attack on the legitimacy of representative democracy in general and on the Yukon Party government in particular. He is knocking down a straw man, as few people seriously challenge our basic governing principles.

No, the peoples’ critique is of the process taken by the Yukon government to develop its “plan” and on its contents. It was written in secrecy, was not based on public consultation, drew skewed conclusions from the available evidence, and it rejected what Yukoners were on record as wanting. If this is democratic, it is only in the strictly limited sense that it was authorized by elected politicians. The problem is that irreversible damage can be done to the land before politicians are ever held to account.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission, mandated by the Umbrella Final Agreement, was an advisory body appointed by elected governments, established precisely because it was arms-length from politicians. It’s seven-year process generated high-quality information about the planning region, relied on extensive and open consultation, employed sound science and planning methods, and its conclusions were consistent with the research and with values and interests of the Yukon people. The commission’s plan clearly is democratic.

But there is a deeper question here: that of legitimacy. Are there not moral limits on the right of politicians to make irrevocable decisions over irreplaceable public assets? For example, should the elected government of Egypt feel free to demolish the Sphinx or the Pyramids at Giza? Is there not an ethical obligation to act as stewards of our natural and cultural heritage for people yet to come? How can politicians be accountable to future generations?

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission learned that the people of the Yukon and the First Nations value the Peel watershed as wilderness: lightly used, but undeveloped. A minority want it developed for mining and other industrial purposes. The commission’s research established that at present, these competing visions cannot be reconciled. Therefore it took a cautious, humble approach: preserve the Peel watershed’s wilderness character for the time being until society could agree better. Perhaps in the future we will craft better management approaches – maybe on the basis of new technologies. Perhaps our values will change: wilderness might become even more valuable or possibly less valuable.

A “go-slow” approach has no real downside – our economic health does not depend on developing the Peel watershed at this time. And the assertion that mining claim holders would have to be compensated is a bugbear.

The point is that wilderness is a resource that can shrink but cannot grow. Across Canada, the remnants are more valuable than ever. Our local politicians are promoting a development plan for the Peel that would eliminate some of the best wilderness remaining. Development and road-building is a one-way gate for wilderness, but in conserving the Peel’s wilderness we also conserve options. Since as a society we disagree on development, in fairness, let’s agree to keep our options open.

All ethics come from recognizing membership in a community. The community affected by the Peel watershed plan is wider than the mining community. It is wider than the business community. Wider than the environmental community. Wider than the First Nations, wider than the voting community, wider than the people of the Yukon or of Canada; wider even than the unborn generations who should be considered.

Our ethical community includes the land and its animals, plants, and waters. Considering all this, the commission’s plan is democratic. What about the Yukon government’s “plan”?

David Loeks is former

chair 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