Peel plan supporters pack forum

Over 250 people came out to show their support Wednesday evening for the final recommended Peel land use plan. The town hall meeting was the kind of consultation the organizers wished the government had planned.

Over 250 people came out to show their support Wednesday evening for the final recommended Peel land use plan.

The town hall meeting was the kind of consultation the organizers wished the government had planned.

All this week, the government is hosting an open-house consultation at the Gold Rush Inn. Yukoners can browse information, ask the staff questions and submit comments.

But the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society wanted to give people the opportunity to stand up and be heard.

Sarah Jerome from Fort McPherson told the standing-room-only audience about growing up on the Road River in the northern corner of the watershed.

“Everything I was taught was to respect the land, the water, the animals. Everything that was there we were taught to respect.”

She still spends her summers with her family in the Peel, and when paddlers come by, she waves them in for a visit.

“They would tell us about that beautiful land we have up there, that pristine wilderness.”

The society organized the alternative event in the room next door to the government’s displays.

The forum was billed as the “true public consultation,” but it was equally a conservationists’ pep rally. Advertisements made clear that the purpose of the event was to support the final recommended plan.

And while organizers insisted all opinions would be respected, it’s perhaps not surprising that no one showed up to defend the government and its proposed modifications to the plan.

Premier Darrell Pasloski and Resources Minister Brad Cathers declined an invitation to attend. So did the staff hosting the government’s open house next door.

Over a month ago, the government released four concept maps showing their ideas for what the Peel plan should look like.

At first glance they may appear to be similar to the commission’s plan, but the details reveal a different story.

The Peel commission called for 55 per cent permanent protection and 25 per cent interim protection, meaning no roads and no new mineral claims or oil and gas permits.

The government’s maps call for the majority of the watershed to be open to staking, and don’t rule out roads anywhere.

Dave Loeks, chair of Peel planning commission, came to the CPAWS event to defend the final plan and the process that came up with it.

After nearly seven years of meetings on the fate of the Peel, he was hoping that this would be the last round, he said.

“The process that the Yukon government has undertaken, from my reading, does not conform to the requirements of the UFA,” said Loeks. “So I don’t think it counts. They’re going to have to do this again, if they’re actually going to fulfill the UFA.”

Attendees heard numerous complaints about the consultation as envisioned by the government.

The Umbrella Final Agreement describes the obligation to consult on the final recommended plan before the government can accept, reject, or propose modifications to the plan. The government not only suggested modifications before consulting, but is consulting primarily on those proposed changes.

The government agreed in a letter of understanding signed January 2011 to conduct consultations and wrap up the Peel planning process in collaboration with the affected First Nation governments. Those First Nations were not consulted on the government’s new concepts, and are not involved with the current consultation.

The format, too, bothered some speakers, who asserted that for meaningful consultation to occur, the public should be invited to meet and hear from each other, rather than to speak one-on-one with bureaucrats and submit comments. And, they said, feedback provided on the website should be immediately made public.

Some took issue also with the fact that Pasloski and Cathers declined to attend not only the CPAWS event, but also the government’s open house.

“This message is also for Darrell Pasloski and Brad Cathers, who want to hear from us, but apparently do not want to hear from us enough to bother to come out to any public consultation,” said Malcolm Boothroyd, 20, a founder of the Peel Youth Alliance.

Boothroyd spoke about the incredible opportunity to protect such a significant piece of land. He had recently spoken to a friend in Vermont who shared the sentiment.

“In Vermont, he will fight to save a creek or a pond.”

At the end of the speech, Boothroyd led the crowd in chanting, “We reject the Pasloski plans,” as he and others ripped up the government’s maps.

NDP MLA Kate White thanked those who have showed up to sit in the legislature’s public gallery wearing “Protect the Peel” shirts.

“This is what I want to scream everyday,” she said, referring to the same shirt she wore for the occasion.

She also thanked the people who braved the -30 weather this week to hold “Honk to save the Peel” signs outside of the legislature.

“When I asked the questions about the Peel consultation, I could say that the people outside want to be heard. And let me tell you, when they honked for the entire question period, and it was hard to concentrate … if you’re not sure if that’s effective, let me tell you, they heard you yesterday.”

Cathers was not available for comment before press time.

The government’s open house ends at 7 p.m. this evening at the Gold Rush Inn. CPAWS staff are also available in a room down the hall for discussion and information.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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