Planning council criticizes territory’s Peel plans

The Yukon Land Use Planning Council is raising concerns about the Yukon government's handling of the Peel watershed plan.

The Yukon Land Use Planning Council is raising concerns about the Yukon government’s handling of the Peel watershed plan.

“(The Yukon government) did not communicate their thoughts clearly until the eleventh hour, when they introduced … their own vision, which any one of the parties might do, but to do it at the eleventh hour undermines the integrity of the planning process,” said planning council chair Ian D. Robertson.

At a meeting on Friday, Robertson met with planning council director Ron Cruikshank and the Yukon Council of First Nation’s representative, Shirlee Frost. Emile Stehelin, the Yukon government’s representative, was conspicuous by his absence.

According to Cruikshank, the planning process under the Umbrella Final Agreement is supposed to flow from an original recommended plan through consultation with affected communities to the final recommended plan. From there, more consultation is required with affected stakeholders, any of whom can approve, reject or suggest modifications to the plan.

The government, Cruikshank said, has interjected its own modifications into the process before the final round of consultation, disrupting the model and breaching the UFA.

“Modifications should only come after consultation with communities and be based on the feedback from that consultation. It’s definitely outside the UFA. It’s an appendage, but is it valid?” Cruikshank asked.

The government’s changes are more in line with the early scenario stage in the process – completed years ago – where a number of options are presented before moving forward with the first recommended plan, said Robertson. It also removed any mention of the fact that, during the consultation process, stakeholders have the power to simply approve the Peel commission’s recommended plan.

Now the government is refusing to acknowledge the validity of anything but its own proposed changes, changes that don’t even fit within the regular planning process, said Robertson.

It’s also unclear who developed the government’s new proposals, said Frost.

The government’s actions could seriously damage the credibility of the whole land-use planning system, Robertson said.

“If the public believes you can always go through the back door, that destroys the value of a transparent front-end planning process,” said Robertson.

There is conflicting wording in the government’s plans themselves as well, Cruikshank said.

“Wilderness” has no definition under the government’s changed plans. Government land use plans from 1999 have defined “wilderness” as starting a set distance from human development footprints, and it also can’t contain roads.

The current government’s plans allow roads to be built along the Peel’s narrow river valleys, but it isn’t clear whether those areas would still be defined as “wilderness.”

The whole controversy is at odds with the planning council’s raison d’être, said Robertson.

“Our goal is that all the regional land use plans should fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The Government of the Yukon’s responsibility to all Yukon citizens is to provide a clear vision and territory-wide policies to facilitate an overall vision for the Yukon, which respects the economy, the environment and culture. That policy framework is critical to ensuring that each of the regional plans fits together like a hand within a glove,” said Robertson.

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