Peeling away the misinformation

Krysta Meekins's article "Peel away the hypocrisy" (Nov. 16) criticizes the Peel planning process as being polarized and divisive, yet articles such as hers spread misinformation about the process, potentially causing polarization and divisiveness.

COMMENTARY

by Mike Tribes

Krysta Meekins’s article “Peel away the hypocrisy” (Nov. 16) criticizes the Peel planning process as being polarized and divisive, yet articles such as hers spread misinformation about the process, potentially causing polarization and divisiveness.

She obviously has strong opinions on the subject, as do many people, but I want to focus on the facts of the situation, which are grossly misrepresented in this article. Maybe by having everyone understand the truth, we can be less polarized, and divisive, and understand where the middle ground really is.

Ms. Meekins states that the Yukon Party made it clear that it did not support the final recommended plan during the election, and the Yukon voted on the issue, and elected the Yukon Party to a majority government. While it is true that we voted in a majority Yukon government, I have two points to correct:

* During the election, the premier repeatedly asserted that it would be irresponsible of the Yukon Party to state their opinion on the Peel, and in fact, did not take a public position on the Peel, because the final public consultation had not yet happened. (And it would have been difficult for the Yukon Party to make a public commitment on protecting the Peel when over $100,000 of their $160,000 campaign was funded by mining companies, and mining support services).

* If the election was truly about the Peel, 60 per cent of the voters voted for parties that publicly stated they would protect the Peel, which is indeed a strong majority.

The so-called radical environmentalists who support the final recommended plan are not a small minority fringe element of society, but represent all walks of life, and are taking time out of their busy days to protest and make their voice heard because a majority of the people (60 per cent, remember, from the last election) feel frustrated that a government that represents a minority of the population is ignoring a transparent and democratic process that was followed in the Peel planning process.

The Peel planning process was open and transparent. Everyone, including the Yukon government, mining proponents, oil and gas proponents, outfitters, radical environmentalists, and First Nations had their opportunity to speak up, submit written comments and supply alternative scenarios.

As to the mandate of the Peel planning commission, being “only an appointed body:” Their mandate was determined by the Umbrella Final Agreement, Chapter 11, which was negotiated with and signed by the Yukon government. Of the six planning members, two were appointed by the Yukon government, and two more were joint appointments between the Yukon government and affected First Nation governments.

Ms. Meekins is suggesting that we want to render 67,400 square kilometres untouchable to future generations. A couple of points here:

* The Faro Mine is one example that has rendered a large land mass untouchable to future generations due to toxic water, lead dust in the wind and contaminated ground, not to mention a dangerously large hole in the ground. Protecting the Peel actually leaves the area open to future generations.

* The final Peel plan recommends 80 per cent protection, which is 55 per cent permanent protection and 25 per cent interim protection that is to be regularly reviewed. To put this in a broader perspective, the Peel represents 14 per cent of the Yukon, so this permanent protection represents eight per cent of the Yukon and is remote and difficult to access.

* The government’s revised plans have created a “restricted use wilderness area” designation. It allows for the same development levels as “integrated management area, zone II.” So the newly proposed plans protect anywhere from 10 per cent (Concept A) to 34 per cent (Concept C) of the area, and don’t even do that well, because the “protected” areas will still have existing claims honoured as well as allow road access to claims. And the new plans allow for approximately 15,000 km of roads or other cutlines in the area (approximately twice the length of the Trans Canada Highway).

* About 50 per cent of the people employed in the mining industry in the Yukon are Yukoners. So theoretically, we could have 50 per cent fewer mines and still employ the same number of Yukoners. This suggests to me that we don’t need more mining to provide jobs to Yukoners.

As a final note, here is an interesting perspective on protected areas:

* Yukon is 482,000 sq. km with 34,000 people.

* Germany is 357,000 sq. km with 82 million people and 96,000 sq. km of protected areas (27 per cent).

* Ecuador is 275,000 sq. km with 15 million people and 118,000 sq. km protected (43 per cent).

* New Zealand is 268,000 sq. km, 4.5 million people and 61,000 sq. km protected (27 per cent).

*Cambodia is 181,000 sq. km, 15 million people and 29,300 sq. km protected (16 per cent).

Other countries don’t seem to have issues with protecting their natural areas.

I do agree with Ms. Meekins on one point. I encourage all Yukoners to engage in the final Peel consultation. Attend next week’s consultations at the Gold Rush Inn and visit www.peelconsultation.ca.

Mike Tribes is a Whitehorse resident, business owner, part-time university student and “radical environmentalist.”

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