Government hid Peel numbers from public

The Yukon government deleted numbers from its report on the most recent public consultation on the Peel watershed land use plan. According to documents obtained by the News under an access to information request...

The Yukon government deleted numbers from its report on the most recent public consultation on the Peel watershed land use plan.

According to documents obtained by the News under an access to information request, drafts of the “What We Heard” report included an appendix showing how many responses mentioned each of the themes discussed in the document.

These numbers were omitted from the final report released to the public.

In the first draft of the report delivered by the consultant to Energy Mines and Resources, 9,196 responses told the government to accept the final recommended plan, versus 187 that told the government to reject it. These responses came from both inside and outside of the Yukon.

Few responses indicated support for the new concepts and plans proposed by the government, compared with many expressing dismay at the government’s attempts to steer away from the recommendations of the planning commission.

 

“Numbers don’t matter”

 

Neither Premier Darrell Pasloski nor Energy Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent responded to interview requests by press time, but Environment Minister Currie Dixon answered questions in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

He would not give a direct answer as to why the appendix was removed from the report before it was released to the public.

Instead, he said that the consultation was never intended to be a statistical analysis or referendum.

“I would reiterate that the numbers don’t matter,” said Dixon. “The relevancy of the numbers isn’t strong. What is important is the thoughtful and constructive input that we received.”

Also, the government posted all of the responses received during the consultation online at www.peelconsultation.ca  , he said.

“We have been nothing but forthcoming and open with this information.”

 

Little support for government plans

 

The numbers in first draft prepared by the consultant show little support for the government’s position, which is that the final recommended plan must be modified to allow more access for mining and oil and gas development.

Thousands of respondents mentioned support for the final recommended plan as a fair, balanced and reasonable compromise. Thousands also urged the government to respect treaties with First Nations and the consultation process.

On the other hand, 187 urged the government to reject the final recommended plan. That plan is neither balanced, nor fair, according to 323 of the responses. And 97 expressed support for the new concepts proposed by the government.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she was not surprised that the government deleted these numbers from the report released to the public.

“It certainly does reinforce that whole impression that this government has manipulated the process so badly.”

She worries that the government will allow itself to be guided by a small minority rather than the vast majority, she said.

“There’s so much at risk here, not just this particular plan, but it’s the viability of the land use planning process that governments have signed on to.”

 

Shifting numbers

 

Strangely, these numbers did not all stay the same as further drafts of the report were produced.

The News obtained, in addition the first draft, the final draft of the report previous to the version released to the public.

Here, while most of the themes have not changed, the numbers associated with the majority of them have. Some changed only slightly while others changed dramatically. Some went up while others went down.

While the count of responses urging the government to accept the final recommended plan did not change, the number associated with rejecting that plan more than doubled from 187 to 489.

The count for submissions calling for 100 per cent protection of the watershed also doubled, from 196 to 377.

The frequency of responses indicating that future land use planning has been undermined decreased from 363 to 129.

EMR official Manon Moreau said the changes resulted from refinements made to the definitions of the themes, which resulted in some submissions being added or subtracted to the count.

“It was a work in progress, so as he was refining the document, some of the categories collapsed, some were deleted and then those comments would have been moved into categories that were better suited, or better reflect what they were trying to get at.”

The changes to the document were made in consultation with EMR officials, she said.

The author was “trying to develop this document in the best way that he thought would work,” said Moreau.

“We as staff provided comments on whether or not a category could be better defined, those types of refinements.”

 

SEE THE FIRST DRAFT NUMBERS HERE: http://dev.yukon-news.aas/media/documents/firstdraft.pdf

SEE THE FINAL DRAFT NUMBERS HERE: http://dev.yukon-news.aas/media/documents/finaldraft.pdf

 

Proceed with caution

 

Because the consultation was not systematic and took in data from a variety of sources, all of the numbers should be interpreted with caution.

A single respondent could have provided input to the government through a variety of means, by visiting an open house, filling out the government’s feedback form and submitting an email response, for example.

Also, a great number of the responses came as form letters from interest groups, and these submissions likely had great effect on which themes appeared to be most prominent.

The draft report included a disclaimer to this effect.

“It is very important to remember that the consultation process was not structured as a survey or referendum and therefore the number of responses, regardless of their relative strength, cannot be inferred to mean that a majority of Yukoners or Canadians or some other group felt a certain way.”

While this is true, the numbers help to illustrate the substance of the consultation in a way that the themes listed alone could not.

In fact, the consultant spoke to the importance of carefully coding and counting the data in his proposal to the Yukon government for the work.

“This is a relatively slow and time consuming process, but it is one of the few effective ways of distilling tens of thousands of words into a few pages of meaningful data,” he wrote.

Curiously, while the numbers themselves were omitted from the final report, many of the disclaimer statements urging caution in interpreting the numbers were included.

“It is not a statistical analysis and the numbers associated with the various thematic summaries found throughout this document serve only descriptive purposes,” wrote the consultant in the final document released to the public.

 

Land use planning on hold

 

The process of approving a land use plan for the Peel watershed has hit more roadblocks and has taken longer than anyone anticipated.

The Peel Watershed Planning Commission was formed in October 2004, and delivered its final recommended plan in July 2011.

In February 2011 the government and First Nations agreed to an ambitious timeline that would have seen the plan approved by November 2011.

Last fall, the government set a deadline of March 25, 2013 to complete the final round of consultation with the four effected First Nation governments.

That consultation remains incomplete, with no word on when it may be wrapped up.

The First Nations, which originally asked for 100 per cent protection, say they are unwilling to compromise more than what has already been achieved by the final recommended plan. And the Yukon government insists that the plan must support more access for development.

When asked if the final recommended plan was still an option on the table, Minister Dixon said, “We have been pretty clear that we think the final recommended plan should be modified.”

He would not say when the First Nation consultations might wrap up, or when we might see an approved plan for the Peel watershed.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said the government should accept that the public and First Nations have spoken and approve the final recommended plan so that they can get on with land use planning elsewhere in the territory.

“It would be nice to think that the government actually said, ‘OK fine, we need to get on with life in the Yukon, and one of the ways of doing that for all of us would be to fulfill our commitments and accept this plan, and then let’s get on with the rest of them.’ I kind of like to live in a Pollyanna world some days, you know?”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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