The Yukon government’s new land tenure policy for big game outfitters is unfair, says former Yukon premier Pat Duncan.
The MLA from Porter Creek South and the rest of the Liberal caucus have been pressing the government over its decision to offer land tenure to the territory’s 19 outfitting concession holders.
The policy is somewhat complex; outfitters can now apply for leases on small parcels of land — no larger than 3.99 hectares — in remote areas where they have already invested time and money to build infrastructure, such as cabins or airstrips, that are vital to their businesses.
That’s fine, said Duncan.
But outfitters never owned the land their structures are built on — a risk they assumed when they bought their concessions, she said.
Wilderness tourism operators aren’t allowed the same privilege, or the opportunity for land tenure.
And the policy gives outfitters dibs on some of the most popular spots in the Yukon wilderness.
So what about other Yukoners who apply for some lakefront property in the midst of the wilds?
“Last winter, an individual who built a cabin on land in Yukon wilderness was unceremoniously thrown off the land and the cabin destroyed,” Duncan said during Question Period on Thursday.
“He didn’t own that land or lease it any more than the outfitters do.
“How is it fair that an outfitter can apply for the land for his lodge, yet the average individual cannot?”
Granting big-game outfitter land tenure is fair, said Environment minister Dennis Fentie.
“I am glad that the Official Opposition is demonstrating their view of the outfitting industry and trying to create conflict between wilderness tourism and outfitting,” said Fentie.
“There are all kinds of conflicts now… with respect to the utilization of structures out in the wilderness or structures on the land base.
“(Duncan) is entirely correct that this is a one-off and that this is for one industry only.”
Ross River weighs in
The Liberals aren’t the only ones questioning the government’s new land policy for outfitters.
Jack Caesar, chief of the Ross River Dena Council, wants Fentie to turn down an application from Lone Wolf Outfitting Ltd. for a lease on the shoreline of Big Salmon Lake.
The Lone Wolf application “is located within traditional territory” and the government has a “legally enforceable obligation to consult with the Kaska” prior to granting tenure, Caesar said in a May 17 letter to Fentie.
The Teslin Tlingit Council, Ta’an Kwach’an Council and Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation have similar concerns, said Caesar.
“We look forward to receiving confirmation that the government of Yukon intends to honour its duty to properly consult the Kaska prior to making any decision to grant third party tenure to land in our unsurrendered (sic) traditional territory.”
The fall guy
As deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, Angus Robertson wields a lot of power.
For example, he has the ability to sign documents on behalf of minister Archie Lang — which he did, in April 2003, when Resources wrote a letter to the Alsek Renewable Resource Council regarding a land application policy for big game outfitters.
By his own admission, Lang has a conflict when it comes to outfitting — he owns a concession in southwest Yukon.
A veteran of the civil service, Robertson proved he knows a thing or two about loyalty, when he took the fall for the Alsek letter, protecting Lang from conflict-of-interest allegations.
“I signed the letter because we knew Archie had those interests, and I frankly didn’t do as studious a job and as comprehensive a job as I should have,” Robertson said Wednesday, after Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell tabled the letter in the house.
“I should have just signed it as the deputy.
“Why I signed it for Archie is one of those things I will never understand.”
The letter is written on ministerial letterhead from Lang’s office and bears Lang’s name.
But it bears Robertson’s signature, on behalf of Lang.
“Obviously, the department drafts these letters,” said Robertson.
“It came to me and I realized that it was related to at least the process around which the big-game outfitting policy had been developing, and signed it.
“To the extent that I signed it on the minister’s letterhead, I have to do a mea culpa and say it was a mistake.”
Though he called reporters out of the blue on Wednesday afternoon, no one told him to, said Robertson.
Furthermore, Lang didn’t tell him to sign the letter, and Lang had “absolutely nothing” to do with crafting the land-tenure policy.
Mitchell didn’t buy it.
“At the very least, it’s sloppy governance,” said Mitchell.
“It’s disgraceful, to make a 30-year civil servant fall on his sword over this.”
Plus, Robertson’s story doesn’t explain why the letter didn’t turn up in an access to information request, said Mitchell.
“It normally takes weeks or months to get a reply on an ATIPP request.
“We got ours back in two days.”
The response from Resources said, “No records found,” even though the Alsek letter obviously exists.