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Edzerza in opposition sights

John Edzerza gripped an eagle feather as he spoke in the legislature on Tuesday, but one plucked from a crow may have been more fitting - it was, after all, what he had just eaten.

John Edzerza gripped an eagle feather as he spoke in the legislature on Tuesday, but one plucked from a crow may have been more fitting - it was, after all, what he had just eaten.

A day earlier, the MLA for McIntyre-Takhini offered a public apology to Premier Dennis Fentie “for not recognizing his hard work over the past seven years.” Such grovelling was expected.

After all, Edzerza once again sits in cabinet as Environment minister, bringing him full-circle after four years of political wandering.

He quit the Yukon Party in 2006 to join the NDP. Then, in January of 2009, he left the NDP to sit as an independent.

On the opposition benches, Edzerza denounced Fentie as a bully, accused the territorial government of failing to protect the environment and called for more measures to help First Nations struggling with substance abuse.

Then, to much surprise, Edzerza rejoined the Yukon Party in October, restoring the Yukon Party’s majority following the departure of Brad Cathers over the ATCO energy privatization debacle. In February, Edzerza was awarded the Environment portfolio.

That gives him prestige and a $36,000 pay-raise. But it also puts him in the line of fire of the Liberal opposition during question period, and they are enjoying digging up Edzerza’s old attacks on government and making him eat his words.

Take his stance on McIntyre Creek, a wetland within Whitehorse that conservationists are trying to protect from development. In August 2008, Edzerza wrote in a letter to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation that “I am in full support of this group’s efforts to seek permanent protection for the McIntyre Creek corridor running through the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.”

Where does Edzerza stand now that he’s Environment minister, asked Eric Fairclough, the Liberal MLA for Mayo-Tatchun.

“I think it would be very immature for anyone to expect that Kwanlin Dun will drop everything and forget about all the economic development opportunities they have been negotiating for 30 years,” Edzerza replied March 25. “As citizens and the government, we do owe the respect to the Kwanlin Dun to move at their own pace.”

Edzerza also boasted on Monday that he was the only MLA to write to the Kwanlin Dun, asking for their feedback.

But it remains unclear what view the First Nation holds. They never wrote Edzerza back, and Chief Mike Smith did not respond to an interview request.

Whitehorse also deserves a say, Edzerza added when the question was picked up by the Liberals’ Don Inverarity on Tuesday. “It’s not about one government,” said Edzerza. “It’s about three governments.”

The city’s proposed extensions of Pine Street and Porter Creek would both eat into McIntyre Creek.

But the Yukon Party hasn’t been adverse to coming up with plans for McIntyre Creek in the past. In 2005, the territory found itself stuck, after various ministers promised the wetland to the Yukon College as endowment land, to conservationists as a park and to the city for the expansion of Porter Creek.

Edzerza was also grilled about his position on protecting the Peel Watershed.

Patrick Rouble, minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, blocked most the questions, saying that the Peel was his portfolio. (This explanation overlooks how Elaine Taylor, when she was Environment minister, routinely took questions on the Peel.)

But Edzerza spoke to the matter when he rose to comment on the budget on Monday, saying that a middle ground must be found between conservationists and business interests. “No government, I believe, would or should just totally do away with all the existing activities in the area, and that includes wilderness tourism and hunting concessions.

“I know that even the First Nations probably have not ruled out any kind of economic development activities that might be available to them in that region, because it’s a massive amount of land,” he said.

Edzerza never rose to the taunting of the Liberals as to whether he would stand up to Fentie over the Peel. Last year, Fentie made an irate call to Environment officials - apparently without the knowledge of Taylor, then Environment minister - which appears to have resulted in pro-conservation proposals being stripped from the government’s submission to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

Curiously, there has been no mention of the biggest demand Edzerza made while in opposition: the creation of a land-based treatment centre for First Nations struggling with substance abuse. There’s no sign of such a project in the 2010 budget. And Edzerza did not respond to an interview request.

Maybe he needs to do more grovelling before that project gets approved.

“The Yukon Party is fortunate to have (Fentie) as their leader, along with the other dedicated MLAs who are also part of the team that made these humongous budgets possible,” said Edzerza on Monday. “I am honoured to be part of this team.”

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