Yukon election was no referendum on the Peel

Mike Power's letter in the April 27 News presented his own interests clearly (he has mining claims in the Peel watershed, he wants road access). He muddled most everything else.

Mike Power’s letter in the April 27 News presented his own interests clearly (he has mining claims in the Peel watershed, he wants road access). He muddled most everything else.

Complaining that the Peel plan was written by “an unelected and unaccountable commission and staff,” he seems unaware that the land use planning process in the Yukon is the product of the Umbrella Final Agreement. Planning is designed by the UFA to be independent of party politics so that it can detect and express the public good in a disinterested way.

Therefore the commissions are not elected, they are appointed by accountable governments and are tasked to achieve the several objectives set out in the UFA.

These include:

* to ensure adequate opportunity for public participation;

* to recommend measures to minimize actual and potential land use conflicts;

* to promote the well-being of Yukon Indian People, other residents of the planning region, the communities, the Yukon as a whole, with regard to the interests of other Canadians, and

* to promote sustainable development.

The commissions are designed by the UFA to operate free of political direction precisely because the public interest and the interests of any party, stakeholder group or individual rarely coincide.

The UFA does not instruct the planning process to make life safe for conservation lobbies, for mining claims holders, for tourism businesses or for exploration companies. Commissions are charged to promote the public interest (“well-being”).

The Peel plan achieved all these objectives.

Mr. Powers seriously misread the course of the Peel planning process if he thinks that it was subverted by conservation groups or that it was slanted towards them. Each commissioner was appointed because he or she was disinterested, knowledgeable and willing to serve the public.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission maintained multiple opportunities for public participation and met with each and every stakeholder group – while maintaining a clear arms-length distance from them. To imply otherwise has no basis or evidence.

The final recommended plan reflected (as instructed by the UFA) the interests of the First Nations and the interest of the Yukon people in general. This required little interpretation as First Nations and other citizens clearly stated their own interests in overwhelming numbers.

This was abundantly clear in community consultations and written submissions. The survey data only confirmed what the commission knew from its own processes.

Don’t get it backwards: the provisions proposed in the final recommended plan were the result of the planning process. They were not its objectives. The plan was not written to be pro-conservation, nor was it written to be anti-industry. It was written to promote the well-being of First Nations and Yukon people as they themselves defined it.

Having said this, the commission strove to protect the interests of people with mining claims despite vocal opposition from the majority of Yukoners. The plan recommends that all claims be respected, that current levels of access be maintained, that exploration and development be permitted on claims even with the proposed Special Management Areas (the conservation zone).

Banning mining? Hardly. Respected transportation economists and mining executives understand that there are sound alternatives to road access – especially since the cost of roads is spiralling.

It is specious to call the last election “a referendum on mining” since the government party insisted that to discuss the plan would compromise the upcoming consultations. With only a minority of the vote, it is reckless for the current government to claim a “mandate” to reject the plan and cobble together a replacement.

Legitimate land use planning in the Yukon is based only in the UFA. Even though the UFA empowers a minister to reject a plan, it is dubious to reject a plan that achieves its UFA intent as clearly as this one does. Even more dubious when the government did not participate openly in the planning process.

No plan completely pleases everyone. First Nations did not get the complete protection they wanted, neither did the majority of Yukoners who wanted the same thing.

This is a compromise document designed to promote the maximum benefit of all Yukoners – miners included.

David Loeks, chair

Peel Watershed Planning Commission