Government officials refused to discuss the Peel Watershed plan with tourism companies, but frequently met with mining lobbyists on the issue, according to e-mails obtained by the News.
The deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources met with the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines in mid-February to talk about the Peel, according to the documents.
“Here is a draft agenda for our meeting,” wrote executive director Scott Kent in an e-mail to deputy minister Angus Robertson on February 17. “Most of the items are updates for you other than some more serious discussion around the Peel Planning Commission.”
The meeting took place in Robertson’s office at 3 p.m. on February 18th, according to e-mails.
“We had some discussions around the Peel Watershed and the land-use planning process and some other stuff,” said Kent on Tuesday. “I know (assistant deputy minister Greg) Komaromi was there and Angus was there.”
“I’m not sure if (policy director) John Spicer was there. I know he was there in some of the meetings. But I can’t remember that particular one.”
Kent has been the chamber’s executive director for a year, he said.
“I usually try to catch up with (Robertson) every three or four months for a meeting in his office or a breakfast meeting,” he said.
“I can’t recall in particular what we talked about, but I was probably giving him an update on our position and what the chamber’s position was on the scenario documents,” said Kent.
“As executive director of the Chamber of Mines—and I do contract work for the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association—I meet with (Angus) just as I’m sure the tourism industry meets with tourism deputy heads.”
The trouble is, the tourism industry has been barred from meeting with government to talk about the Peel for nearly a year, according to Rod Taylor, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.
Last fall, Premier Dennis Fentie met with Taylor to discuss the federal government’s economic stimulus package.
“At that time, (Fentie) did say that they were not going to get involved (with the Peel) until the draft plan came up,” said Taylor.
Talking about the Peel Watershed would compromise the government’s impartiality, according to Taylor.
Yukon officials in the mining, tourism and environment departments have been providing technical information to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission for the last several years.
The hands-off approach toward lobbyists was reiterated last April, when Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor met with the association’s board at the Skky Hotel.
“They were not entertaining any discussions or meetings about the Peel commission because they felt it was their role to wait until the commission gave its final findings and then they would comment,” said Neil Hartling, president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon.
The government could provide technical information to tourism operators, government officials told Hartling and Taylor.
“But (the government) was never supposed to talk about strategic planning in terms of lobbying and influencing the commission,” said Taylor.
The government was not so stringent with the Yukon Chamber of Mines, which has clashed with the tourism industry over the future of the Peel Watershed.
At the time of the February 18 meeting, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission was soliciting public and government advice on its four land-use scenarios, released in January. The scenarios ranged from heavily protected to development friendly. Public comment closed on the scenarios just 10 days after Kent met with Robertson.
The commission originally presented just two scenarios, but eventually added two more pro-development schemes during the public comment period.
It’s not clear whether the chamber asked for a pro-mining scenario via the government.
A spokesperson for the Energy, Mines and Resources Department did not return calls before press time.
The commission presented a draft land-use plan based on the scenario consultations on April 28. It calls for protecting more than 59 per cent of the Peel and development access to 37 per cent of the Peel.
But mineral claims in the high majority of the protected area will be grandfathered, opening the door to development in most of the Peel, according to conservationists.
The mining lobby fears environmental protection in the Peel land-use plan will set a precedent for the six upcoming plans, which were created through the Umbrella Final Agreement.
“A lot of areas with high mineral potential are also slated for protection (in the Peel),” said chamber of mines president Carl Schulze. “The Bonnet Plume River is an area with the largest amount of mineral prospects and it’s also an area being protected.”
Each land-use planning commission has different members. And each commission looks at different data on mineral, environmental and First Nation interests.
And even if mining production, development and exploration in the rest of territory is the highest it’s been in years, Schulze feels protecting the Peel will lead to heavy protection in the rest of the Yukon.
Conservationists and tourism operators argue that the Peel is one of the last remaining accessible, yet pristine, wilderness regions on the planet.
A 22-page Environment Department report, suppressed after Fentie interfered in its release, claimed the long-term economic spinoffs from wilderness tourism could equal or surpass short-term profits from resource extraction.
The commission has since asked for the report, which was prepared for release through the Peel commission process.
The government has refused.
Public comment on the draft plan closed last week and the commission is now working on a final recommended plan for September 30.
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