Let the Peel posturing begin

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell is calling for the territorial government to "lead or get out of the way" of the proposed plan to protect the Peel watershed.

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell is calling for the territorial government to “lead or get out of the way” of the proposed plan to protect the Peel watershed.

“The Yukon Party government doesn’t support the plan and wants to leave the area wide open to industrial development,” Mitchell said in the legislature Wednesday.

That’s not quite true. The government is pushing to allow some mining in the vast, 77,000 square kilometre, Scotland-sized swath of land in northeast Yukon.

But it also signed off on a letter, co-authored by First Nations, that declares, “given the values and the largely pristine state of the region, selected areas will be excluded from development and afforded high levels of protection.”

What remains murky is which areas the territorial government wants protected, and which it wants open to mining. The government won’t say.

Given the divisive nature of the Peel debate, which pits miners against conservationists, perhaps it’s understandable they would prefer the planning commission to make these tough decisions for them.

When Mitchell asked the government to explain which parts of the Peel they’d like protected, government ministers shifted blame back on the Liberals, who they say are the ones really guilty of being vague on what to do with the Peel.

Environment Minister John Ezerza accused the Liberals of having “no position on anything … They’re fence-sitters – whichever is the best for them today is what they go with.”

Mines Minister Patrick Rouble, meanwhile, claimed the Liberals have changed their tune on the Peel – championing conservation in the legislature, but cozying up to miners at Vancouver’s annual mineral exploration conference.

He’s referring to comments made by Mitchell to the CBC on January 27, which are more bland than damning.

Speaking on the Peel plan, Mitchell said “the mining industry certainly has their issues with how that plan has gone forward. We have to find a balance and we have to reassure the industry that if we go slow and don’t butt heads over the Peel, there’s lots of other opportunity in Yukon.”

Mitchell responded to the government’s muck-flinging by noting his party expressed its support for the draft plan when it was released in December. So did the NDP.

Only the Yukon Party rejected it, warning it was too complex and didn’t support enough “mixed uses,” namely mining. That puts it at odds with four affected First Nations, which want to see the entire watershed protected.

Last week, the government and First Nations agreed to aim to have a completed plan signed by November.

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