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Let's be precise on the Peel

Readers may be left scratching their heads over conflicting accounts of Premier Darrell Pasloski's position, or lack thereof, on the Peel Watershed. That's only understandable.

Readers may be left scratching their heads over conflicting accounts of Premier Darrell Pasloski’s position, or lack thereof, on the Peel Watershed.

That’s only understandable. Because Pasloski has two positions on the Peel, and the two contradict one another.

The first is that he has no position. It would be “inappropriate” to do so, because there’s a final round of community talks to be held.

The second position is that the proposed plan to protect four-fifths of the Peel would bankrupt the territory, by provoking expensive lawsuits by miners with claims in the area.

To prevent this, Pasloski wants to sit down with First Nation chiefs, who staunchly support protecting the entire area, and cut a deal to allow more mining.

Newsflash: this is a position. And it’s a pretty clear one. Pasloski rejects the recommended plan.

True, Pasloski has never said, “I reject the plan.” But he doesn’t need to, because you cannot both strike a new deal and endorse the current plan. One cancels the other out.

Yet many news reports continue to say that Pasloski refuses to take a position. That’s plainly false. But it’s reported as true, simply because Pasloski says it’s so.

This is bizarre.

Reporters routinely deal with sources who speak in jargon and bafflegab. It’s our job to boil this down into intelligible English and explain, as best we can, the truth.

So why, when Yukon politicians try to snow the public with obfuscation, do my peers respond with gutless stenography? Especially when doing so sends a misleading message to their audience?

Plainly, sticking with what the premier says is seen as the safe route. But, in this case, I’d contend it does the public a disservice.

The premier has many powers. But he cannot suspend logic’s law of noncontradiction.

Now Pasloski’s given himself a tall order to fulfill, by promising to succeed where five years of planning talks failed, and make everyone happy.

It’s clear this isn’t possible in the Peel, where conservationists and First Nation people want to keep the wilderness intact, while miners want to dig holes in the ground in search of shiny metal.

Again, the two positions contradict one another. A mine and its accompanying access roads chew up the wilderness, developing the region.

But Pasloski has never acknowledged such tradeoffs are involved. If he wants to make headway, that will need to change.

Pasloski’s assertion protecting the Peel would bankrupt the territory also stands on wobbly foundations.

To support this, he points to British Columbia’s Windy Craggy saga, which saw the provincial government pay out upwards of $100 million in compensation for encircling a potential mine with a big new park in northeastern BC in the early 1990s.

But there’s a big problem with this comparison. Windy Craggy was far more advanced than any mining project in the Peel. So there’s no reason to believe companies in the area would be eligible for anywhere near as much compensation.

That leaves the Yukon Party without a rational explanation for their rejection of the plan. And it would be hard to present one now, because it would simply involve Pasloski contracting himself even more than he already has.

Instead, expect Pasloski to plough ahead and hold a final round of public meetings. Then he’ll try to haggle with the chiefs, but it seems highly unlikely a deal will be struck.

If talks fall apart, most of the Peel remains Crown land, and so it’s up to the territory to regulate industry there as it sees fit. So, in a way, the territory may win by losing.

But First Nations have warned they’ll sue the Yukon government if they suspect they’ve been dealt with in bad faith, in violation of commitments made during land claim talks.

So the matter may languish in the courts. Or Pasloski may take up the suggestion a “cool off” period be introduced.

Either way, it seems entirely possible that, five years from now when Pasloski seeks another term in office, the Peel may remain an election issue.

Contact John Thompson at