The Yukon NDP is once again accusing the territorial government of hiding its plans for oil and gas development in the territory.
The party recently obtained a copy of the government’s oil and gas engagement strategy through an access to information request, but the document was heavily redacted.
The NDP also requested the government’s oil and gas action plan, which Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent referenced in the legislative assembly but never tabled, even after the NDP asked for it. The party received a four-page draft document sub-titled “Implementation of Yukon government’s action plan on the responsible development of oil and gas resources” in response. But that’s not the actual action plan, a cabinet spokesperson confirmed.
NDP environment critic Kate White said it’s unacceptable for the government to withhold any of this information.
“When you’re going to talk about a document … then you have to be prepared to show it,” she said. “You have to show your cards.”
In April 2015, the government announced it would support hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Liard Basin in southeast Yukon, but only with the involvement of affected First Nations.
The oil and gas action plan is supposed to outline how the government will pave the way for fracking in the territory.
It is to include sections on technical research to be conducted, a review of Yukon’s regulatory regime to be completed, First Nation relations and public engagement.
The engagement strategy is part of that last section of the action plan.
According to the draft document obtained by the NDP, the total budget for the action plan is $2.5 million over five years. The majority of that – 62 per cent – is to be spent on technical research, while another 24 per cent is for First Nation relations and public engagement.
In an interview, Kent said the action plan and corresponding engagement strategy are still drafts, which is why they’re not being released in full right now.
“Once it’s finalized, we’ll release it,” he said.
It may be true that there’s still work to be done on the documents. This year’s budget includes $369,000 for development of the action plan.
But Yukon’s annual oil and gas report from 2015 stated that the Yukon government “has developed” an action plan, seeming to suggest it was already done.
And in the legislative assembly on April 20, Kent outlined the different components of the action plan during question period, without mentioning that the plan wasn’t yet complete.
“The ultimate reason we (requested) this document is because they talked about it in the legislative assembly,” White said. “They talked about it like it was a living, breathing document, like it existed.”
It’s still not really clear whether the full action plan exists in written form. The engagement strategy clearly does, but it’s hard to say what it contains.
Kent wouldn’t say what’s included in the engagement strategy, or when it and the action plan might be finalized and released to the public. He would only say that the government has accepted all 21 recommendations made by the all-party committee on hydraulic fracturing in January 2015.
“We’re doing what we said we’d do,” he said. “Our position hasn’t changed.”
But the government isn’t required to withhold information just because it’s in draft form – that was a choice it made.
The section of Yukon’s access to information legislation used to redact the engagement strategy states that the government can withhold information if it would reveal “advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a public body or a minister.”
But that’s a “discretionary provision,” said Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner.
“It’s up to them to decide whether or not they release that information,” she said.
McLeod-McKay said that if the NDP was to contest the redactions, she would review whether the provision was applied correctly in this case. But even if it wasn’t, she can’t force the government to reveal the information.
“All I have the power to do is recommend,” she said.
The Yukon government has been deliberately cagey about oil and gas development in the past.
The public first learned the government intended to support fracking in the Liard Basin after an internal presentation was accidentally emailed to the CBC in March 2015.
The government’s official policy on fracking was only released after the leak.
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