Pasloski strikes back

Protecting four-fifths of the Peel Watershed could bankrupt the territory, Premier Darrell Pasloski warned at last night's environmental forum.

Protecting four-fifths of the Peel Watershed could bankrupt the territory, Premier Darrell Pasloski warned at last night’s environmental forum.

Compensation payments to miners with claims in the vast swath of northeast Yukon could amount to “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pasloski asserted. He wondered aloud how the Liberals or NDP, which both support the Peel plan, would pay for this.

“What programs are they going to cut? Are they going to cut health care? Education? Childcare? Seniors’ programs?”

To support his argument, Pasloski pointed to Windy Craggy – a massive copper deposit in northwest British Columbia that became enveloped in a park that straddles the BC/Yukon border, in the 1990s. The BC government paid upwards of $100 million in compensation.

Until now, Pasloski has hedged the Peel Watershed, insisting his party has no position on the matter until a final round of consultation has taken place.

RELATED:Read all of our election coverage.

Pasloski repeated this line at last night’s forum. But, given his grim warnings, it doesn’t appear he sees the proposed plan as an option.

Instead, Pasloski said he’d sit down with affected First Nations – which have expressed staunch support of the plan – to find “common ground.”

That’s precisely what the Peel Watershed Planning Commission aimed to do. But planners discovered that nobody supported a compromise deal.

So the planners erred on the side of conservation, proposing that slightly more than half of the watershed be permanently protected, with an additional third to be off-limits to development for at least a decade.

Pasloski warned that “expropriation” would carry a high cost. However, the plan wouldn’t extinguish existing claims.

Still, that’s little comfort to the miners with nearly 9,000 claims in the area. The plan bans the construction of roads in the watershed, and without them, they say their claims are worthless.

Compensation doesn’t need to end in costly court battles, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell. When Tombstone Territorial Park was formed, many companies gave up claims in exchange for credit for future exploration work elsewhere.

Dealing with compensation claims is the job of the government, not the planning commission, said NDP Leader Liz Hanson.

And the proliferation of claims in the Peel is a problem of the government’s own making.

For many years after the planning process started, it ignored calls for a staking ban in the watershed. Predictably, miners rushed in.

At the debate Pasloski lashed out at the Liberals and NDP, which have lambasted the premier for not coming clean on where he stands on the Peel. He accused both parties of “engaging in the politics of division.”

“They’re pitting Yukon citizens and Yukon industry against each other for partisan political gain. They’ve made this debate by picking winners and losers. That’s not good government. Leading is about bringing people together and reaching common ground.

“Yukoners want both pristine wilderness and a healthy economy. The NDP and the Liberals tell you this isn’t possible. That’s just wrong.

“As premier, I believe Yukoners can find common ground. As premier, I’m not willing to accept the outcome where mining, tourism or outfitting loses, or Yukoners are told that feeding their family just doesn’t matter.

“Our position is that we need to cool the rhetoric. Our position is that stakeholders can reach common ground and ensure that the plan protects the environment and respects all sectors of the economy.”

Mitchell and Hanson, needless to say, had a different take on things. So did most of the eco-friendly audience, judging by the occasional guffaw as Pasloski delivered his tirade.

The only friendly question to be pitched at the premier came from his official agent, Christine Doke, who basically read off the same script as Pasloski, asking about the Peel plan’s cost.

“How can a responsible government say they’re just blindly going to do this?” Pasloski chimed in. “And they have no clue how much this is going to cost.”

More than 200 people attended the event at the High Country Inn, leaving several rows of attendees standing at the back and spilling into the hallway.

Topics ranged from wolf management to ATV regulation to the fate of McIntyre Creek. But the evening’s discussion inevitably circled back to the Peel.

Mitchell spoke of the Peel as a legacy project. When today’s new hospitals have crumbled 100 years from now, the Peel Watershed ought to remain pristine as a gift to future generations, he said.

He touted his party as the “balanced” choice.

“We’re not interested in taxing industry out of the territory, as the NDP would do. And we’re not interested in becoming the next Fort McMurray, as the Yukon Party apparently wants to see.”

Hanson emphasized her commitment to work with First Nations as “true” governments, rather than merely pay lip service to consulting with them. That includes honouring their wish to protect the Peel.

The debate also featured Kristina Calhoun, leader of the Green Party, and Stanley James, a candidate for the First Nations Party.

James offered essentially the same answer to nearly every question: “We’ll have to sit down and talk about it.” He repeatedly expressed his desire to see environmental damage cleaned up, especially near the Yukon River.

On the matter of wolf management, Calhoun proposed that money dedicated to wolf kills should instead be used to raise local livestock.

All candidates agreed on a few things. If you’re under 18, the law should require you to wear a helmet while riding an ATV.

Yukon Energy shouldn’t pursue a plan to burn recyclables to produce electricity. And the territory shouldn’t allow the bulk export of its water.

The event was organized by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Yukon Conservation Society, Friends of McIntyre Creek, Raven Recycling and the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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