A government minister must have given an Alberta outfitter verbal permission to build an illegal lodge on the Bonnet Plume River, said Liberal MLA for Mayo-Tatchun Eric Fairclough.
Recently, Chris McKinnon, owner of Bonnet Plume Outfitters, told CBC Radio that he received “verbal permission” to erect the lodge and buildings, but declined to identify the person who gave him the thumbs-up.
Fairclough said he believes that nobody would invest the nearly $500,000 McKinnon has put into the buildings, located about 160 kilometres southeast of Mayo, on a verbal promise from anybody other than a government minister.
Fairclough is challenging Premier Dennis Fentie to start an investigation to determine which minister gave the permission.
“There’s no one out there that would spend $500,000 on a verbal commitment from departmental officials,” said Fairclough on Monday.
“I don’t think it would come from departmental officials; it would come from an elected member, a minister, and I believe that’s what happened.”
In the summer of 2005, McKinnon and his company built the lodge and several cabins near the Bonnet Plume River, a Canadian heritage river.
The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, whose traditional territory the buildings sit on, discovered the lodge and made a complaint to the department of Energy, Mines and Resources, said Fairclough.
The First Nation wants the buildings removed.
Following complaints about the lodge, the Yukon government sent McKinnon a letter on October 19, demanding he provide documented proof he holds legal title for the land the lodge and buildings sit on.
“To our knowledge, the above occupation is without lawful authority,” reads the letter, signed by Yukon government legal services counsel Michael Winstanley.
On Monday, Fentie announced McKinnon has until December 15 to provide the paperwork.
If the documents aren’t produced, McKinnon has been informed the government will take action through the courts, and the lands branch will seek a court-ordered removal, he said.
The Yukon Party government took little time deliberating about razing a squatter’s cabin near Mayo in 2005, once it was determined that it was illegally built on Crown land.
But Fairclough isn’t satisfied the government is going to get rid of the outfitter’s buildings if they’re illegal.
He wants to know why McKinnon believes he got verbal permission, and he pushed Fentie to ask each of his cabinet ministers if they gave McKinnon the thumbs-up.
“Let’s go through a process of elimination,” he said during question period on Monday, before listing each minister.
“Has he (Fentie) asked … if they had any role to play in giving the verbal assurance to proceed with this construction?”
Fentie joked that he should also ask the governor of Alaska and the premier of Alberta too, before he quashed Fairclough’s demand.
“There is no such thing as a minister telling any person that they can do something of this nature,” he said.
“It can’t happen. There are laws in this territory and the government side doesn’t break law; otherwise there is a problem.”
Fentie refused to speculate what would happen if it is found that a minister did give McKinnon verbal permission to build the lodge.
“I’m not in the business of ‘if,’” he said after question period on Monday. “I’m in the business of fact, law, policy, regulation.”
The government knew about the buildings since 2005 but didn’t let the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation know, said Fairclough.
“That doesn’t say much about the Yukon Party government’s working relationship with First Nations governments at all,” he said.
“It’s a matter of respect. The lands department from Na Cho Nyuk Dun has known about it, has written to government, and it took a long time before they got a response.”
If it is revealed a minister played a role in convincing McKinnon he had the legal all-clear to build the cabin, Fairclough suggested a solution.
“If it was a minister, he should be fired immediately,” he said.
McKinnon, who lives in Alberta during the winter, was contacted but didn’t return calls before press time.