The Yukon government didn’t have a position on oil and gas exploration in the Whitehorse Trough before a request came from industry in January, Premier Darrell Pasloski told media and First Nation chiefs after Friday’s Yukon Forum.
That is the main difference between this issue and the Peel land use plan, he said.
“We had a position on the Peel and we didn’t have a position on oil and gas,” said Pasloski.
The forum, a meeting between the Yukon government and First Nation leaders, was held just a day after the territory announced it was putting oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough on hold until after the next election.
Public opinion played a part in that decision, said Brad Cathers, the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, when he made the surprise announcement.
The public has also been speaking up for protection of the Peel. But Pasloski said the difference between the two isn’t public opinion, but rather government opinion.
“When it comes to the oil and gas, this wasn’t something that we expected,” he said. “It’s not something that we, as a government, had planned as part of our energy strategy going forward. I think most people know that we have been focusing in southeast Yukon and the Eagle Plains area.
“On the Peel, we did state publicly that we felt that there wasn’t a balance. We thought that Yukoners didn’t want to pick winners and losers, that they in fact would like to see that we have a pristine wilderness and a strong economy.”
But Yukon conservationists see the Whitehorse Trough decision as a “success” for the public’s ability to sway government policy.
In a joint CPAWS Yukon and Yukon Conservation Society news release, they say it is a hopeful sign for the final decision on protecting the Peel.
“The announcement came as a surprise to many, in light of the government’s approach to land use planning in the Yukon,” said CPAWS president Jill Pangman in the release. “We are hopeful that this will be the start of a positive new trend in the government listening to its people.”
“This gives us hope going into the final round of consultations on the Peel,” said Lewis Rifkind, of the Yukon Conservation Society.
Yukon chiefs are also holding onto hope – and their sense of humour.
Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor told Friday’s gathering that he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the Yukon government had put oil and gas exploration in the Whitehorse Trough on hold.
“I’d like to fall out of my chair again,” Taylor said coyly, looking over at Pasloski.
Taylor confirmed that the eight Peel principles the territory released in February went against the plan and the process that First Nations had agreed to.
But Pasloski continued to recite the refrain that his government is following the process and expects to begin a final round of consultations before spring is done.
While the Peel land use plan continues to drag on, a new commission has started work on a plan for the Dawson region.
Taylor, whose First Nation is central to both plans, said he would like to have confidence that the government will listen to the Yukon public.
“I’d sure like to trust the government,” the chief said. “But honestly, time will tell.”
Land use planning was one of three main topics at Friday’s meeting between the territorial government and First Nations.
They agreed money is running out and more is needed since so far only one plan has been finalized.
They decided to use what’s left and then go together to Ottawa to ask for more.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at