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Fracking committee feels the pressure

The Yukon Legislative Assembly's select committee on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing is on the final leg of its community tour this week.

The Yukon Legislative Assembly’s select committee on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing is on the final leg of its community tour this week.

Last night in Whitehorse at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre about 150 people came out to give testimony, show support or hear what others had to say. About 40 people signed up for five minutes each of the MLAs’ attention.

Deanna McArthur prefaced her speech by saying that she had never spoken publicly about something like this before, but that in the past six months she has knocked on the doors of several hundred Yukoners to share information about fracking.

“I was so encouraged that the majority of those I talked with were individuals who do not want that practice allowed here,” she said.

“On the downside, though, I was saddened by the cynicism of so many who in spite of their feelings on the subject wondered if it would matter much one way or the other what they said or signed, and the decisions have already been made by those in power.”

Lee Mennell echoed the sentiment later in the evening.

“In spite of what I consider the biggest popular movement I’ve ever seen in 40 years of living here, and I think the government should have gotten the message loud and clear a long time ago ... they still seem intent to do this with this project,” he said.

“I’ve written letters, I’ve been to the legislature, I’ve done all this stuff - it’s time consuming. A person has to make a living. This is a waste of my time, in a sense. I have to fight against my government.

“This is masquerade, it feels to me like a masquerade, that we have to have the illusion of democracy in spite of the fact that we all know what government wants to do.”

Mennell then led the crowd with his guitar in a version of Country Joe and the Fish’s anti-Vietnam protest song, with the lyrics altered.

He had a friend hold a cardboard poster with the new lyrics to the chorus, and NDP MLA Kevin Barr held the mic.

“What are we fracking for?” asked Mennell in the song’s chorus. “There ain’t nothing that they won’t trash to get at that natural gas.”

Gary Bemis attempted to survey the crowd, and asked those who favour fracking to raise a hand. It’s unclear if no industry supporters showed up, or if none dared to raise a hand in a crowd overwhelmingly opposed to fracking.

Committee chair Patti McLeod interrupted Bemis and reminded him that his time allotment was for him to give testimony to the MLAs.

The committee also visited Haines Junction and Carcross this week.

By all accounts the Carcross meeting was a rousing display of anti-fracking fervour.

The meeting went on for four hours, with 55 people speaking strongly against fracking in a community centre packed with about 150 people, said Corliss Burke, who gave a summary of the Carcross meeting to the Whitehorse crowd last night.

Many who spoke reminded the committee that the Carcross/Tagish First Nation has passed a resolution banning fracking on its traditional territory, and that the government could see another lawsuit if it goes in a different direction, she said.

It was “quite phenomenal for a tiny little town,” said Liz Reichenbach, who also attended both meetings.

And Astrid Vogt said it “smelled like there was revolution in the air” that night in Carcross.

Sean Smith, a councillor for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, also addressed the committee in Whitehorse last night, although he gestured to symbolically remove his councillor hat and put on his Kwanlin Dun citizen hat before speaking.

He spoke of the “natural capital” that capitalists don’t take into account in their pursuit of profit.

That natural capital is “our blanket to secure our future, our children’s future and our children’s children’s future,” he said.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is one of few Yukon First Nations that has not publicly come out in opposition to fracking.

The Council of Yukon First Nations unanimously passed a resolution to ban fracking within its members’ traditional territories last year, however the Kwanlin Dun are not members of CYFN.

Kwanlin Dun held a meeting this week for its citizens to learn more about the oil and gas industry and allow them to ask questions.

It came up as an issue at the last general assembly, and there were concerns raised about fracking in particular, said Lael Lund, communications manager for the First Nation.

She confirmed that the First Nation has not yet taken a position on oil and gas development or fracking.

About 40 members of the First Nation attended the meeting, and asked pointed questions about potential effects of oil and gas development on caribou, water, fish and the land.

They also expressed concerns that benefits are short-lived and mainly go to Outsiders.

David Morrison, president of Yukon Energy, told the Canadian Senate this week that the Kwanlin Dun have partnered with the corporation on the planned Whitehorse liquefied natural gas power plant.

“We have a partnership with KDFN as they will be 50 per cent owners of this project,” he said, according the preliminary transcript of the Senate hearing.

Lund said that the partnership with the First Nation is not yet a done deal.

“Kwanlin Dun is eligible to invest up to 50 per cent in that project, but has not committed to it at this point,” she said.

The legislative committee’s Whitehorse hearing continues on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

The committee will also accept written submission until Sept. 30. Visit the Yukon Legislative Assembly website for details.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at