Yukon as we know it will cease to exist if the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has its way.
That was the message delivered yesterday by Premier Darrell Pasloski on the opening day of the legislature.
“Whatever the amount of land that the Yukon government protects in the Peel watershed region, it will never be enough to satisfy the demands of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society,” said Pasloski during his budget speech.
He spoke of the society’s plans to create a protected corridor all to way from Yukon to Yellowstone National Park.
“The Peel watershed region is in fact the northern anchor of this grand vision to create a corridor for Alaskan grizzly bears to allow them to wander down to Montana,” he said.
“You can bet the bumper stickers are already prepared.”
The premier warned of a bleak future if the environmentalists get away with their plan.
“Most of Yukon would be covered by parkland and the territory’s resource-based economy would not be able to sustain itself nor our current population, resulting in a substantial loss of jobs and an exodus of people. No jobs means no people.”
Gill Cracknell, executive director of CPAWS Yukon, said she was surprised by the premier’s comments.
“I think it’s rather bizarre. We’re four people here, and we’re representing an issue that’s very important to Yukoners.”
The Peel watershed is CPAWS Yukon’s only campaign issue, and the group expects that to be the case for the foreseeable future, she said.
“We’re interested in a sustainable Yukon and communities that work,” said Cracknell, when asked if CPAWS would like to see most of the Yukon turned into a park. “And part of that is ensuring that our environment can support us.”
The society is a member of the Yellowstone to Yukon, or Y2Y, initiative, but that is a separate organization, she said. They are partners because of their common interest in protecting the Peel.
Both opposition parties slammed the government’s attack on the local organization.
“It basically does a disservice to the premier’s office,” said Liberal Leader Sandy Silver. “We all have agencies that we agree with and that we don’t agree with and bottom line is, even if you don’t agree with these people and this particular organization, these people are volunteers for the most part, and they’re also Yukoners.
“This is a speech about the budget, this is not a time for you to cast out certain societies in the Yukon.
“I just thought it was very unprofessional. It definitely is beneath the office of the premier. Clearly it’s not beneath the premier.”
“I guess we now know very, very clearly where this government stands on the Peel,” said NDP Leader Liz Hanson. “They have made it abundantly clear. This is a frontal attack, not only the Peel watershed land use plan, and the First Nations and Yukoners who have expressed their views on this, but I think it’s largely a frontal attack on the environment.”
During the government’s last round of consultation on the Peel watershed land use plan, CPAWS collected over 7,500 names of people urging the Yukon to adopt the planning commission’s recommended plan.
About 40 people marched to deliver a banner carrying the names to the legislature.
But the government has already dismissed the effort by indicating that the vast majority of signatures came from outside the Yukon.
“Eighty per cent of the feedback was through petitions and form letters, 86.5 per cent of that feedback was from non-Yukoners,” said Resources Minister Brad Cathers during question period. “While we will give fair consideration to all comments, make no mistake – we were elected by Yukoners, for Yukoners. We were not elected to represent the citizens of Pasadena, Dusseldorf or Toronto.”
But Hanson said the government is simply spinning the results of consultation to support its own position.
“This government has made it clear from the get-go that they do not and will not respect the final recommended plan from the planning commission,” she said. “This is just another way of dismissing that.”
– With files from Jesse Winter.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at