The Yukon Party government is “trying to frighten people” by making “inflammatory” statements about a proposed plan to protect the Peel Watershed, says the NDP’s Steve Cardiff.
“I found their comments about the existing mineral claims in the Peel and our options for dealing with them to be uninformed, irresponsible and very unproductive,” Cardiff told the legislature on Tuesday.
He singled out one comment made by Jim Kenyon, minister of Economic Development, on September 28.
“What are you going to do,” Kenyon had asked, “when the lineup starts at the courthouse and the lawsuits start flying, when the government has started laying out huge sums of money in embarrassment, then try to settle things out?”
He’s referring to the numerous mining claims in the Peel. If the government were to adopt a proposed plan that calls for protection of 80 per cent of the massive watershed, these miners would likely seek compensation.
Kenyon made no mention of how the government waited six years after the land-use process started before introducing a staking ban in the area. As a result, the number of claims in the watershed grew from around 1,500 to 8,400 today.
Nor did he mention that the Peel proposal doesn’t call for existing mining claims to be extinguished – the measure most likely to attract lawsuits.
Cardiff called on the government to come up with a fair way to compensate miners, and to replace Yukon’s old free-staking rules with modern ones.
Cardiff also asked Kenyon on Tuesday whether he was being “deliberately provocative.” Kenyon didn’t respond.
Instead, Mining Minister Patrick Rouble offered the government’s usual response to questions about the Peel: he changed the subject.
The government must respect its obligations to First Nations, as spelled out in the Umbrella Final Agreement, said Rouble.
That’s another subject entirely, replied Cardiff.
“Rather than trying to frighten people, this government should be showing leadership by initiating a debate, seeking advice, developing a coherent and principled approach for compensating the holders of mineral claims,” said Cardiff.
“When will the government take concrete steps to address the issues associated with the escalated conflicts that we’re seeing between the 19th-century staking regime and the 21st-century land-use needs and values?” he asked.
Rouble either didn’t understand Cardiff, or he played dumb.
“I can’t comprehend the understanding coming from the member opposite,” he replied. “Perhaps we’ll send him over a copy of the Umbrella Final Agreement.”
The same day that Kenyon raised fears of lawsuits, Glenn Hart offered his own grim warning, by suggesting that outfitters and wilderness operators should face hefty taxes if the Peel is protected.
“If you’re going to have a value for that pristine environment, then the people who use that pristine environment will have to be taxed accordingly,” he said. “The wilderness operators and the outfitters are all going to have to have the same kind of responsibilities.”
On Wednesday, the Liberals’ Eric Fairclough asked Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor if she agreed with this remark. Again, Rouble replied.
And again, he spoke about the Umbrella Final Agreement. Then he blamed the opposition for using “divisive tactics” and raising “unfounded fears.”
On Thursday, Hart admitted he “misspoke” and that the government is considering no such tax.
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