Peeling back the layers

When Darrell Pasloski campaigned to become the Yukon Party's leader this spring, he cautioned his party faithful to not let the fate of the Peel Watershed become an election issue. Too late.

When Darrell Pasloski campaigned to become the Yukon Party’s leader this spring, he cautioned his party faithful to not let the fate of the Peel Watershed become an election issue.

Too late. The Liberals, NDP and Greens have all promised to act on a plan to protect four-fifths of the vast swath of northeast Yukon that’s twice the size of Vancouver Island.

Four affected First Nations have also thrown their support behind the final plan. And they want Pasloski to make his position clear.

But Pasloski insists that, by doing so, the chiefs are breaking a deal.

“You have to be responsible,” he told the Yukon News Friday morning during a sit-down interview. “You have to follow agreements that you sign.”

But which agreement? Pasloski’s predecessor, Dennis Fentie, often hid behind a copy of the Umbrella Final Agreement to dodge questions on the Peel, to justify what many people saw as his meddling in the process.

But Pasloski isn’t talking about the UFA. He’s referring to a joint letter of understanding, signed by the territory and First Nations in January.

It sets the rules for how to behave during the final steps of the planning process, with the aim of having a plan signed by all parties in early November.

What’s far from clear is why Pasloski asserts this letter prevents him from speaking his mind on the Peel Watershed.

So, with the four-page agreement splayed before Pasloski, the News asked him to identify the section that forbids him from taking a public position on the Peel.

He wouldn’t.

So we asked again. And again.

In all, Pasloski was asked six times in 15 minutes.

He never did cite a particular section. Instead, Pasloski stuck to generalities.

Afterwards, this reporter gave the letter one more thorough read and couldn’t find any part that would prevent Pasloski from speaking to the matter.

But Pasloski insists doing so would be wrong, because it would mean he had prejudged a process that hasn’t wrapped up.

A timeline agreed to in January includes one more final round of public consultations. Meetings were slated from mid-August to mid-September, in Whitehorse, Mayo, Old Crow, Dawson City and Fort McPherson. But they never happened.

And, with an election underway, these talks won’t start until a new government is in place.

Consultations were delayed so that miners, who are busy hunting for shiny metal in the summer, could attend, said Pasloski.

But didn’t his government help set the timetable it’s no longer meeting? To this, Pasloski passes the blame to the Peel planners.

They completed their final plan nearly a month late, he said.

It’s a puzzling point to make, because even if the talks were held a month earlier than scheduled, this would be an equally inconvenient time for miners.

The Yukon government has already conducted one round of public talks on the Peel, in the summer of 2010. It never released the results.

But when conservationists hired DataPath Systems to determine the outcome of the consultations, it concluded that the vast majority of respondents wanted most of the watershed protected.

Pasloski offered a comparison to explain his position, or lack thereof.

The territory recently extended public consultations for its revamped wolf management plan. It would be premature for the territory to state it’s position on that now, before everyone has had a chance to speak.

So it goes with the Peel, he said.

“It would be like the government coming out and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ today, without finishing the consultation process. As a government, we need to be responsible. And I think that’s what people want to see.”

But Pasloski isn’t just refusing to say what his government will do with the Peel plan. He’s refusing to offer any specific criticism of the proposal.

It’s clear the Yukon Party thinks the plan goes too far and doesn’t allow enough mining. But the only people to say so out loud are candidates that drifted away from the Liberals to recently join the Yukon Party: Scott Kent and David Laxton.

It would be “irresponsible” to make any comment about the final Peel plan at this point, said Pasloski.

The Yukon Party would protect part of the Peel, said Pasloski. But he won’t say how much.

“I won’t put a number on it,” he said.

“I think that’s not responsible, for people to come out and make a final decision before all the information is out.”

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