Resources Minister Brad Cathers says the current consultation on the Peel land-use plan respects all legal obligations as well as the privacy of Yukoners.
Over 250 attendees at an event hosted by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society heard many criticisms of both the format and the content of the government’s consultation.
Speakers argued that the open-house style does not allow for true dialogue to occur, and that First Nation partners were ignored.
The government unveiled in October a series of proposed modifications to the Peel commission’s final recommended plan, which it says will protect the wilderness while allowing for responsible development.
Critics, however, say that the government’s obligation is to consult on the recommended plan before proposing any modifications.
In an interview this week, Cathers defended both the format and the content of the consultation process, saying that it respects Yukoners and fulfills promises made by the government during the last election campaign.
Cathers has no record of being invited to the CPAWS event, he said. But if he had, he would have declined, he said.
“It’s not a normal part of public consultation processes for ministers to attend meetings organized by a particular group.”
Similarly with the government’s open house, “It’s standard practice to have officials from those departments running the meetings, not to have ministers themselves hosting those sessions,” said Cathers.
The government’s consultation allows people to ask questions to officials at open-house meetings and submit comments in person, in writing, or online.
The open-house format respects Yukoners’ time, said Cathers. It allows for “a greater opportunity for the average citizen to come out at a time of their choosing rather than having to show up at a limited window at a regular consultation-style meeting.”
And the government has heard in the past from some citizens that they do not feel comfortable voicing their opinion in a public forum, especially among those with very strong viewpoints, said Cathers.
The comments on the website will not be made immediately public for a similar reason. In past consultations, such at the heated debate over potential oil and gas dispositions in the Whitehorse Trough earlier this year, some people were uncomfortable with local media airing their comments without their permission, said Cathers.
“We believe that providing a format that is as welcoming to citizens and allows Yukoners who wish to comment quietly and not have the spotlight put on them to do so.
“And of course those who wish to be more public about their viewpoint continue to have the option of writing letters to the editor, going on radio shows, or staging events to showcase their personal opinion.”
The government’s new proposed maps for the Peel were delivered to the senior liaison committee with First Nations over a month before they were made public, said Cathers.
The decision to conduct the consultation independently of First Nations also came out of discussions with the committee, said Cathers. He would not confirm if all parties were in agreement on that point.
During the election campaign, the government promised to seek a more balanced plan that would respect all sectors of the economy, said Cathers. The current concepts took almost a year of development.
“The reason we didn’t provide what you see currently a year ago is because it didn’t exist.”
Furthermore, nine of 11 Yukon Party MLAs, including the premier, are new to the caucus, said Cathers.
They didn’t have any more opportunity to influence the planning process than the average Yukon citizen before they were elected, he said.
Although the government has been clear it doesn’t believe the recommended plan is the best one for the Yukon, they will continue to fulfill their obligation to hear from Yukoners, said Cathers.
“We will continue to honour our legal obligation to hear all input received during the final phase of consultation and to give it full and fair consideration, but as you note, we have been clear about the fact that we don’t think the document come up with by the commission is the best approach for the area and that we believe modifications would be appropriate.”
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