Fentie defends interference in Peel Watershed document

Mayo Premier Dennis Fentie played down government e-mails suggesting he interfered in his government's response to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission's call for technical advice.

Mayo

Premier Dennis Fentie played down government e-mails suggesting he interfered in his government’s response to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s call for technical advice.

A 22-page environment department document supporting strong conservation in the Peel watershed was watered down to four pages after Fentie made an “irate call” to deputy Environment minister Kelvin Leary in March, internal e-mails reveal.

It was Fentie’s “obligation” to make such calls, he said in Mayo on Friday.

“This was a day-to-day call,” said Fentie, who was attending the first day of the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation’s general assembly. “If (anyone) wants to interpret it as interference, so be it.”

Fentie was simply providing policy direction to the deputy minister, he said.

But he wasn’t exactly stoic about it, according to e-mails.

“Kelvin (Leary) just received an irate call from the premier, who was with (Energy, Mines and Resources) Minister Brad Cathers and he was quoting (Environment’s) response,” reads a March 6 e-mail from environment policy director Ed van Randen to John Spicer, his counterpart in Energy, Mines and Resources.

“This was a most uncomfortable and unexpected outcome,” wrote van Randen.

Asked what had irked him about the environment report, Fentie referred to the Umbrella Final Agreement.

“Have you read Chapter 11 in the UFA?” he said. “You should have a look it.”

Chapter 11 outlines the creation of land-use planning commissions across the Yukon to mitigate conflicts between miners, First Nations and ecological interests.

Conservation proposals must come from the planning commission itself and not the government, said Fentie.

However, there are no conservation proposals in van Randen’s memo, so it’s not clear what Fentie is referring to.

But even if there were, there’s no explanation why the Tourism department can propose areas lucrative to wilderness tourism, or why the Energy, Mines and Resources can advocate for areas to be mined, but the Environment Department must be reprimanded for proposing environmental protection.

The Peel Watershed has become a contentious battle between those who advocate for its world-class pristine ecosystem and the mining lobby.

The Environment report would have supplied the Peel Watershed commission with key scientific advice when it was creating its draft plan, open to public comment until June 30.

Before it was heavily edited, the document advocated measures that would have hurt mining interests, such as no road access from the south and east of the watershed.

That draft plan for which the document was created has been soundly criticized by conservationists, First Nations and tourism groups as unjustifiably pro-mining.

The commission plans to use the shelved report (available on the Yukon News website) to write its final recommended plan, set for release in September.

The First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun plans to use it too. It, along with the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations, have until July 31 to comment on the draft plan.

“We’re not happy with the information the commission has gotten and we will respond accordingly,” said Chief Simon Mervyn.

“We’re not happy with the expectations of First Nations in regards to the (draft plan) itself,” said Mervyn. “We adopted a total green scenario. We are currently uniting those First Nations that will be affected in the Peel Watershed to build a case from that perspective.”

Delegations from the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Dene First Nations in the Northwest Territories spoke at length of their desire to protect the Peel during the general assembly’s opening day.

“Our mandate from our elders since I was a little boy is to protect the land,” said Mervyn. “We believe the spirituality and the traditional values are first and foremost in our expectations from the commission.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.