NDP Leader Liz Hanson issued an “unqualified apology” on Tuesday after she accused Premier Darrell Pasloski of misleading voters during the territorial election.
Hanson had asserted the Yukon Party had a “secret plan” for the Peel River watershed that it hid from public view for nearly two years.
NDP researchers had obtained, through an access-to-information request, a copy of the Yukon Party’s eight principles on the watershed. It appeared to date back to February 2010 even though the document only became public in February of 2012.
Hanson and the NDP’s Jim Tredger used this as the basis to blast the Yukon Party during question period.
But officials with Energy, Mines and Resources quickly issued a statement afterwards to say there had been a misunderstanding, based on a clerical error. It said the eight principles had been accidently put out of order in a stack of more than 600 pages.
Hanson apologized to Pasloski in the house later that afternoon, saying the assertions she had made “we now know to be wholly and unequivocally false.”
“We always attempt to conduct our business in this house in good faith,” she said. “We accepted the accuracy of the government document we received and proceeded on that understanding. We sincerely regret this unfortunate situation.”
It was a big stand-down from earlier that day when Hanson suggested the territorial election may have been swayed by the coverup of the Yukon Party’s “secret plan.”
“One wonders whether the results would have been different if the Yukon people knew prior to casting their ballot that the Yukon Party’s position on the Peel was crafted in February 2010 and hidden before and during the election.”
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers replied by calling Hanson’s allegations a “complete invention” with “no basis in fact.”
Early during the election campaign, Pasloski admonished opposition parties for being “irresponsible” by taking a position on the Peel watershed, Hanson noted.
More consultation needed to happen first, Pasloski said at the time.
But Hanson “conveniently forgets” attending an environmental debate midway through the campaign, said Cathers. That’s when Pasloski warned that the plan to protect four-fifths of the Peel could bankrupt the territory -Â a message that the premier continued to repeat through the remainder of the campaign.
“We criticized the leader of the NDP and the leader of the Liberal Party for being irresponsible for committing to accept that document,” said Cathers. “That was our position. We were elected on that basis by Yukoners on October 11.”
What’s more, NDP candidates warned voters that the Yukon Party wouldn’t adopt the Peel plan, said Cathers.
“They went door to door and told Yukoners we wouldn’t accept the Peel plan, and today they stand in the house and say something different.”
Cathers also asserted that today’s Yukon Party is different from the one that existed in February of 2010. The only incumbent from that period to remain in government is Elaine Taylor. Cathers was sitting as an Independent after falling out with then-premier Dennis Fentie.
Until Pasloski issued his doom-and-gloom warning about the Peel, the Yukon Party had not offered a clear position on the Peel plan, although few doubted it disliked it.
But instead of saying so, the party couched its criticism in obscure references to the Umbrella Final Agreement or as vague references to the need for more balance.
Only in February, with the release of the Yukon Party’s eight principles, did the government offer details about what it wanted.
Rather than protect four-fifths of the Vancouver Island-size swath of northeast Yukon, the government wants to only offer full protection to key areas. The majority of the watershed would be open to a sliding scale of development, with stricter safeguards required for sensitive areas.
These details would have been useful to know earlier in the planning process, said David Loeks, chair of the planning commission. Instead, the Yukon Party only released its principles after the commission had completed its work.
Cathers insists the government merely wants to modify the commission’s proposed plan. But to Loeks “they’re not modifying a plan. They want a new plan.”
Affected First Nations have warned that the territory’s efforts to change the plan this late in the game may run afoul of the Umbrella Final Agreement.
First Nations and the territory had aimed to sign a completed plan by the autumn of 2011, but this timeline was delayed by the election.
A new schedule is expected to be announced soon.
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