The Yukon legislature was filled to capacity Thursday with a lineup out the door.
It was the first day of the spring sitting, and more than 250 Yukoners showed up to protest the Yukon Party’s position on the Peel, oil and gas, and democracy.
“We agree that for now oil may run our cars – it should never run Yukon Party government,” said one placard, propped in a snowbank outside the legislature.
“Don’t sell Yukon down the river,” said another.
Two young girls, also holding placards, had squeezed themselves into one of the many white T-shirts CPAWS was giving away -“Protect democracy, protect the Peel, protect the plan,” it said.
More than 100 people who couldn’t get into the legislature milled around outside, listening to question period on a PA system set up by CPAWS and the Yukon Conservation Society.
“Originally, my concerns were tourism,” said Suzanne Picot, who owns the Dunroamin’ Retreat outside Carcross.
Picot wrote several letters to Tourism Minister Mike Nixon about the drawbacks of oil and gas development, but heard nothing.
“So I thought, maybe he’s not concerned about its impact on tourism, but he should be concerned about water.”
Picot knows from experience.
She worked for a Canadian oil and gas company in South America in the late ‘90s. “And I am still traumatized by what I saw,” she said. “It’s all about the water.”
Local business owner Mike Tribes agrees.
Every fracking well, used to get oil and gas out of the ground, pollutes between one million and 10 million litres of water, which goes back into the groundwater, he said.
In Alberta, oil and gas development requires so much water, it’s competing with the province’s hydroelectric power facilities, added Yukon renewable energy expert JP Pinard.
Pinard would like to see the Yukon government turn to alternative energy sources rather than oil and gas.
But last year’s budget didn’t give Pinard a lot of hope.
The government spent $3 million on oil and gas development, but only set aside $1 million for the energy solutions centre, he said.
Looking around, Pinard was amazed by the number of people who turned out for the protest.
“People are here because they care about the environment and the place they live,” he said. “But the miners and the oil industry only care about the bottom line. Most of them don’t live here and don’t care if the place is degraded.”
Look at Faro, he added. “Energy, Mines and Resources is spending $20 million to $30 million a year to clean up that mess – that’s taxpayers’ dollars. How come miners aren’t responsible for that?”
There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, said local emcee Dan Ashley, addressing the crowd.
A fellow had just walked up to Ashley and asked, “What are you trying to protect? The government is following the plan to protect 80 per cent of the Peel.”
The crowd guffawed.
“But people don’t know what’s really happening,” said Ashley.
Dave Loeks was part of the Peel planning commission from the get-go.
“And the objective of the Peel plan was not to preserve the Peel,” he said, standing in the crowd of protesters.
“We heard what everyone had to say and came up with a compromise,” he said.
Now that compromise is being compromised, said Richard Vladars, who also worked on the Peel plan and attended almost every community planning session.
“The majority of the communities were in support of protecting the Peel,” he said. “So it’s a shame the government has modified the plan to represent one interest.”
It was a sentiment shared by Yukon lawyer Noel Sinclair.
“I am disappointed to see the government was so quick to disregard the effort and investment that has gone into the planning process for the last seven years and to ignore the opinions of the majority of Yukoners,” he said.
Inside the packed gallery of the legislature, Michael Purves was sick and tired of being ignored.
So he staged a silent protest of his own.
Every time Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers, or Premier Darrell Pasloski, rose to speak, Purves stood up too and turned his back to the ministers.
“They’ve been ignoring the public,” said Purves. “So I felt, as a member of the public, I should show them how it felt.”
But Purves wouldn’t be surprised if his protest was also ignored.
“By their own polling survey, the government is ignoring about 90 per cent of the people in the territory,” he said.
“And I am sure they would be ignoring me now just as they have in the past.”
A couple of weeks ago, Purves sent an email to Environment Minister Currie Dixon but he didn’t get a response.
Last week, he wrote a respectful email to Pasloski stressing the value in protecting the Peel.
Purves didn’t get a reply.
So he emailed Health Minister Doug Graham, whom he’s known for 15 years.
Again, no response.
“So, yes, I feel very ignored,” said Purves.
The opposition parties also felt ignored.
Almost every question asked during question period was directed to the premier.
Almost all of them centred on the government’s plans for the Peel.
But Pasloski never budged from his chair, refusing to answer.
Instead, Cathers stood up and repeated the same stock response -“We are going to protect the environment and all sectors of the economy”- 23 times.
John Streicker counted.
The federal Green Party president was there to “help encourage our government to be a responsible democracy,” he said.
For many in the gallery, it was their first time attending question period.
Where was the intelligent debate? asked local graphic designer Guin Lalena.
“I had no idea it was like this.”
Lalena wanted to hear real answers to the questions asked.
“But they came across as dim,” she said. “I was embarrassed for everybody.”
“Brad (Cathers) is just a Pasloski puppet,” added Moira Sauer. “It was a travesty.”
Marlon Davis found it depressing.
“I wish they answered the question about how much money they spent on their ad campaign,” she said, referencing the government’s slew of Peel watershed ads.
Davis is behind an ad campaign of her own, championing democracy by parodying the government’s ad style. She’s run six ads – only one was a full page – and that’s cost upwards of $3,000, she said.
“It’s our flawed electoral system that gave this government its majority,” said former federal elections officer Dave Brekke.
“It’s the system that gave them 100 per cent of the power for five years – and they won’t have to be accountable until the end,” he said.
“The government will have to listen to the people eventually,” said writer and photographer Ken Madsen.
Madsen has done more than 10 trips in the Peel watershed. “And it is some of the most spectacular wilderness on the planet,” he said.
But it looks like the government is not committing to the future of the children who live here, said Madsen, who recently moved to B.C., but was back in the territory to visit his grandchildren.
The Peel watershed is one of the reasons students from all over the world come to the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Yukon branch, added NOLS Yukon director Jaret Slipp.
“We have people choosing the Yukon over New Zealand or Chile because of the Peel,” he said.
In the past, NOLS has had wilderness classrooms in different parts of the world encroached by oil and gas development and mining.
“And we’ve had to leave,” said Slipp.
It would be the same in the Peel, he said.
“So much of the territory wants the place protected and it’s so frustrating to have this usurped by one interest group.”
Oil and gas are finite, said Lynn Martin, standing on Second Avenue outside the legislature waving a placard as cars drove past honking.
“We need to find alternate energy sources before we wreck it for our kids,” she said.
“We need to keep the pressure on this government,” CPAWS executive director Mike Dehn told the crowd.
“Talk to your neighbours and friends,” he said.
“The government is going to protect 80 per cent of the Peel – they just don’t know it yet.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at