Planning council blasts government on Peel

The government’s recent actions on the Peel have jeopardized land use planning across the territory, according to the Yukon Land Use Planning Council. “The council believes that the regional land use planning program is in trouble.”

The government’s recent actions on the Peel have jeopardized land use planning across the territory, according to the Yukon Land Use Planning Council.

“The council believes that the regional land use planning program is in trouble,” according to an April 7 letter signed by Ian Robertson, the council’s chair. The letter was addressed to Brad Cathers, minister of resources, as well as the chiefs of the four First Nations involved with the Peel plan.

“A number of negative precedents may have been set that undermine the trust and public confidence required to sustain an effective land use planning program.”

The recently released What We Heard report reaffirms “the extent of the polarization and disconnect” between the views of Yukoners, according to the letter.

“The consultation report clearly demonstrates a public perception that the government of Yukon did not follow either the spirit or intent of the rules established in Chapter 11 of the Umbrella Final Agreement and hijacked the process. Whether that is true or not is largely irrelevant at the point.”

The effect of this “lightning rod for division” has spilled over into other land use planning processes, and undermines the government’s ability to promote the Yukon to industry as a good place for investment, the letter states.

The council raised four specific concerns with the government’s handling of the Peel plan process.

First, the process for approving the land use plan did not follow what was agreed to in a letter of understanding signed by Yukon and First Nation governments in January, 2011.

The parties agreed to a “process, timeline and approach to consultation,” but these tenets were not followed.

The lack of commitment to the letter of understanding “has resulted in the reduction of trust between the parties, hampering future communication and harming relations,” the letter states. “It is now unlikely that there will be other such ‘handshake’ agreements, and more formal, costly and time-consuming legal agreements can be expected.”

Second, the council raised concerns with the government’s decision to release a set of “planning principles” at a late stage in the process, and without input from First Nations or the council.

Land use planning commissions are charged with producing an “approvable” plan, but in order to do so parties must be clear on their expectations.

The letter noted five earlier points in the process where the government could have identified its planning principles.

“As principles are foundational statements used to base a plan or planning process upon, having these come out that the end of the process jeopardizes any work done prior to their release,” according to the council.

Third, the council blasted the government for introducing proposed modifications to the plan that were “cobbled together with little supporting evidence as to their validity.”

Any proposed changes should have been based on consultation with the public and First Nation governments, and not the other way around, according to the letter.

“The rationale behind the concepts and legitimacy of the proposed new land use categories struck many as illogical, vague and even naive. This is unfortunate because it meant that the ideas themselves did not end up getting fair consideration.”

Finally, the council said that the government’s new proposed land use designations are confusing and out of step with existing land use designations.

“The use of the word ‘wilderness’ as part of the title of an area where development is allowed (roads, mines, etc.) is misleading,” the letter states.

A 1999 government report defined wilderness as existing beyond a set distance from roads and development, according to the council.

Furthermore, the government’s own planning principles indicate that there are areas in the Peel that deserve “the highest level of protection available.”

None of the areas in the government’s plans meet that standard, according to the letter.

“There is no designation in the new Peel concepts that would align with the highest level of protection envisioned internationally.”

The governments involved must exhibit courageous leadership and creativity to bring land use planning back on track and restore public confidence in the process, the letter concludes.

“The present situation is untenable for all.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at jronson@yukon-news.com

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