Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski declined to answer questions about the Peel watershed during Thursday’s opening of the legislature, instead allowing Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers to take the flak from opposition members.
But Pasloski didn’t have that luxury during his constituency meeting on Wednesday evening at the library of Elijah Smith Elementary School.
Concerns about the government’s Peel plans and potential oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough dominated that meeting, attended by about 20 people.
Hillcrest resident Michael Reynolds wanted to know why the Yukon Party has changed its tune on the watershed.
Pasloski spent the first half of the fall election campaign saying it would be “irresponsible” to take a position on the Peel before conducting further consultation.
“Why now, a couple months into your mandate, without any further consultation with the public, is your government now rejecting the plan, effectively?” asked Reynolds.
“You knew a lot more than you said during the election,” he said. “Why didn’t you put those ads out during the campaign, as part of your platform? That would have been the honest thing to do.”
But Pasloski did, in fact, flag his stance on the Peel watershed midway through the campaign, during the environmental forum.
At the time, Pasloski warned that enacting the Peel plan may bankrupt the territory by provoking lawsuits from miners.
Then and later, Pasloski promised to craft a compromise that would make everyone happy. “We came out and told people, ‘It’s not about winners and losers,’” he said.
“But that’s not saying anything,” said Reynolds. “That’s just spinning. These principles that you’re putting out now – why didn’t you put them out during the election?”
Roy Pawluk, of Lake Laberge, interjected. “That’s your opinion. I don’t see it that way at all,” he said.
“First of all, do you know where the Peel is? Have you been there? Is it in the Yukon?
“Most people who are complaining about development in the Peel have never been there, could never tell you where the hell it is, and if they’d been there, they probably landed on an airfield built by a mining company.”
Pasloski dismissed the findings of a poll that found most Yukoners want to see four-fifths of the vast, Vancouver Island-size swath of northeast Yukon protected.
“Quite honestly, I never look at any polls,” said Pasloski. “If I want to get a result in a poll, I can probably frame a question to get the result I want. That’s a reality of polling.
“There was a poll on October 11. Yukoners went out to vote and elected the Yukon Party,” Pasloski added. “That clearly said that Yukoners want to see balance.”
The fate of the Peel lies in the hands of the Yukon’s elected politicians, said Pasloski. The planning commission, which spent seven years crafting its final plan, is only charged with making recommendations.
“They’re unelected and they’re not accountable to the people,” said Pasloski. “So, for people to say, ‘We’re just going to do what they say,’ doesn’t speak to leadership. The responsibility to act lies with elected people to make these decisions.”
“Then why have a board?” asked Reynolds.
“There’s a question,” said Pasloski.
“You’re suggesting we get rid of boards like that?” asked Reynolds.
“I said boards are there to make recommendations,” said Pasloski.
The premier insisted the government hasn’t rejected the final plan. It merely wants to modify it.
But that’s hard to square with the territory’s newly promoted principles, said Reynolds. “Your ads in the paper are pretty different than the final plan,” he said.
The government wants a plan like the one created for northern Yukon. There, half the region is protected, with the remaining half open to a sliding scale of development, with stricter safeguards required for sensitive areas.
Yet much of northern Yukon’s protected areas were set aside before the planning process started, one resident noted. That makes it very different from the Peel today.
As he did during the election, Pasloski compared the plan to protect the Peel to B.C.‘s Windy Craggy saga, nearly two decades ago.
Windy Craggy was well on its way to becoming a massive copper mine when the B.C. government encircled it with Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in 1993. The province eventually paid upwards of $150 million in compensation.
But no mineral play in the Peel is anywhere near as advanced as Windy Craggy was at the time. That means miners don’t have as strong a claim to compensation.
After the meeting, Reynolds remained unhappy with the answers he’d heard. “I’d like more transparency and more clear answers,” he said. “I wanted him to campaign on what everyone knew he was going to do.”
Plans to open up the Whitehorse Basin to oil and gas exploration was another hot-button issue, raised at the meeting by Don Roberts. He’s calling on the government to hold off.
“Why are we going down this path so quickly?” asked Roberts. “I’ll tell you. Because we need energy for these foreign mines, that’s why. Mines should pay for their own electricity.
“Both mines that are now plugged into the grid pay less than I do every month. Why is that? I got that rationale from David Morrison – they’re commercial users. What are you talking about? We own the energy.
“Every one of those corporations should be paying the full cost, not me. I think your government is being run by corporations and influenced by corporations and not people.”
Few people have spoken in favour of oil and gas development at public meetings. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, said Krysta Meekins, who spent five years working in the oil fields of Alberta.
“There are a lot of us out there who are really excited,” she said.
The alternative is to continue relying on diesel fuel, which is both more expensive and dirtier than natural gas, said Pasloski.
“Are we happy with rolling super-Bs of diesel up the highway to fill our cars and keep our homes heated?” he asked. “We need to make sure we’re not being a bit hypocritical. We’re all consumers of energy.”
Natural gas has been pumped from southeast Yukon for two decades, noted Pasloski. “But no one lives there,” said Roberts.
“Is that any different than the Peel?” asked Pasloski.
Contact John Thompson at