Peel schedule proves slippery

The final round of talks for the Peel Watershed land-use plan have been delayed. More than two months ago, Premier Darrell Pasloski promised the final round of consultations would happen “soon.”

The final round of talks for the Peel Watershed land-use plan have been delayed.

More than two months ago, Premier Darrell Pasloski promised the final round of consultations would happen “soon.” Earlier, in April, he told Yukon’s First Nation chiefs that the meetings would be held sometime this spring.

It’s now summer – although the weather may not seem like it – and government officials are still unable to say when public meetings will begin.

“The government has internal work to do. Following that, there will be communication with the senior liaison committee at which time we would be in a position to provide further update,” government spokesman Darren Parsons said on Thursday.

This isn’t the first time Pasloski has contradicted himself on the Peel plan.

During the territorial election campaign last fall, the Yukon Party said it would be “irresponsible” to take a stand on the Peel plan before further public consultation. But in February, without any such consultation, the government indicated it would reject the plan, in favour of rules more friendly to mining in the region.

Since then, the government has touted a campaign of “balance.”

The Peel planners wanted to protect 80 per cent of the Scotland-sized area from mines and new access roads. That upset miners.

There are 8,431 active mineral claims in the Peel Watershed. Companies have explored for oil and gas, coal, iron and uranium.

Most of the claims were staked after the Peel’s planning committee was struck and started doing its work.

The protection-heavy plan still opened up oil and gas claims near Eagle Plains.

The territory provided little direction during the lengthy planning process, which lasted nearly a decade.

First Nations were blindsided by the territory’s announcement in February.

The leaders of all four First Nations with land in the watershed said they were not consulted and that the government was breaking an agreement it signed with them in January 2011.

“YG has painted themselves into a corner in the sense that they have to face the wrath of the Yukon people,” said Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun in February.

He warned that the government’s handling of the Peel plan could jeopardize future land-use plans.

“We’re patient people. We’re not greedy. We’re transparent, we’re honest and throughout the whole process we’ve done what’s right by the people, the land and the children and Yukoners in general.”

The First Nations have sent a legal opinion to the territory’s officials.

Land-use planning is entrenched within all Yukon First Nations’ final agreements and the territory could run afoul of these constitutionally-backed arrangements.

“We’ll wait patiently and tie our dogs firmly to the tree,” said Mervyn, alluding to court action. “But when it’s time to go, we’ll untie them and hit the trail.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com