Land use planning is on ice while the Yukon government appeals the court decision over the fate of the Peel watershed.
The Yukon Land Use Planning Council met Friday to discuss what to do while that case works its way through the courts.
And the answer? Not much. Members of the council agreed that, until the Peel issue is settled, land use planning is on hold in the territory.
The Dawson planning commission suspended its work in December, and no new commissions will be formed until there is a clear outcome.
Staff from the council travelled to Dawson to pack up the commission’s office and put their work into storage.
“At the same time the staff was busily doing wrap up work as well,” said Ron Cruikshank, director of the council.
“It was a bit awkward. They were trying to type and we were pulling stuff out from underneath them.”
While the office has shuttered, that commission’s work still isn’t totally wrapped up.
Edits to a “What we heard” document from a recent round of consultation are still outstanding, and commission staff have asked for more time, said Sam Skinner, a senior planner with the council.
“It seems like at least four of them are checking their email and replying, so we could still get quorum on that. Momentum is rapidly slowing.”
The council plans to use the slowdown to talk about how the land use planning process is supposed to work in general, so that it goes more smoothly when that work resumes.
Other plans to spend outstanding budget money for the fiscal year include paying for the production of a promotional video about land use planning in the Yukon, sending Cruikshank and council member Pearl
Callaghan to the Mineral Exploration Roundup conference in Vancouver later this month, and providing training opportunities for council members and staff through Yukon College.
“In order to be a barista at Starbucks you need 20 hours of training, but you can become a lawmaker in Canada with no training at all,” said Patrick Rouble, the council’s chair. “So doing some training might do some good.”
“The coffeemakers are more important, though, Patrick,” quipped Cruikshank, drawing laughter from the room.
In an interview following the meeting, Rouble declined to answer questions about the Yukon government’s handling of the Peel plan.
Rouble was the Energy, Mines and Resources minister at a crucial point in the Peel planning process, and a letter he wrote in 2011 to the planning commission underpinned a great deal of the plaintiff’s case in this summer’s trial.
The Yukon Supreme Court judge agreed with the plaintiffs that Rouble’s letter and the attached submission did not provide the commission with sufficient detail in order for it to properly deal with the government’s concerns.
If the government wanted to see changes to the draft plan at that stage, it needed to give a detailed proposal with a supporting explanation, Justice Ron Veale argued in his decision.
Rouble said he’s not in a position to speak to his actions and the actions of the Yukon government at that time.
“In order to ensure that I’m maintaining appropriate distance, if you’ve got questions specific to the Peel plan, please ask George (Nassiopoulos, council member.) That’s why we have a variety of people on the council.”
Former council chair Ian Robertson criticized the government’s handling of the Peel plan in a letter shortly before the end of his term.
He said the government didn’t follow through on agreements set out in a memorandum of understanding with First Nations, introduced its own ideas too late in the process and proposed modifications that were “cobbled together with little supporting evidence as to their validity.”
The current council has backed off from that stance.
“It’s not my job, I don’t believe, to criticize one party or the other,” said Nassiopoulos, who was appointed to the council by the Yukon government in June 2014.
“I can’t make comments on whether it’s appropriate for council, the party members, to make comments on that process. I do know that we are the ones tasked with trying to get the process working.”
Nassiopoulos also wouldn’t say if the council would have preferred the government to have accepted the Peel ruling, rather than appealing it, so the council can get on with its work.
“Personally I don’t think that’s our role to dictate to the parties, the signatories to the agreement. It’s their role to work those sorts of things out,” he said.
“I have a personal view, but that’s not relevant to this. I’m here representing the council.”
Rouble said his past experience with the planning process could help the council avoid issues and conflicts in the future.
“The history of land use planning in the territory has been a bumpy one. Whether it was problems with the original Teslin plan, or the first North Yukon plan that happened, there certainly have been issues that have come up in this planning process, and lessons learned.
“Having a background in the area, though, certainly helps me understand many of the challenges, many of the issues, and hopefully will help to develop some solutions as we go forward.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at firstname.lastname@example.org