Tourism and Environment sidelined on Peel

The Yukon Liberal Party has uncovered more evidence that the departments of Tourism and the Environment were ignored by their political masters during the Peel planning process.

The Yukon Liberal Party has uncovered more evidence that the departments of Tourism and the Environment were ignored by their political masters during the Peel planning process.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver questioned ministers from those departments in the legislature this week. Through an access-to-information request, his party secured a series of emails sent by Environment officials two days after the government announced its “eight principles,” which would open the Peel region to more mining than allowed under the commission’s final recommended plan.

They speak of “frustrated staff,” and ask that department members “manage expectations.”

One public servant responded to an internal update on the Peel process by writing, “Interesting that this department has to get the planning ‘principles’ from a news release.”

Citing this email, Silver asked the minister of Environment, “why were employees in his department left to learn about these major changes in directions from a news release?”

Minister Currie Dixon responded that the ministries of Environment and Energy, Mines and Resources worked collaboratively through the planning process.

The following day, Silver turned his questions to the Tourism Department.

He cited documents from the department that say that the continued viability of the tourism sector “depends on maintaining important resources that tourism activities are based on: intact ecosystems, high quality wilderness landscapes.”

“Why is the Minister of Tourism and Culture supporting this new plan when clearly his department is not?” asked Silver.

Energy Minister Brad Cathers rose to answer on Mike Nixon’s behalf.

“Again, what I would point out to the members is we have this case here of the Liberal Party not accurately representing the facts in this case,” said Cathers.

He noted that he grew up in the wilderness tourism sector, and continues to have close friends in the industry. The government’s new suggestions for alternative plans for the Peel provide a significant level of protection by limiting development, he said.

Silver next brought forward a document dated December 2011, which outlines a draft of the Tourism department’s comments on the final recommended plan. It shows that the department accepted the zoning proposed by the plan, where 80 per cent of the region is protected from new development and all road construction.

Silver asked Minister Mike Nixon why he ignored the recommendations of his department in supporting the government’s suggestions that the whole area be open to new road construction, and between 23 and 42 per cent of the region be protected from new development.

Nixon began to rise to answer the question, but again, Cathers beat him to it.

He reiterated the government’s plans to provide limited protection to all river corridors, which are highly valued by the tourism industry.

“I assure the member that this government is well aware – I am well aware – of the importance of rivers to wilderness tourism and we understand it a lot better than the Liberal Party does,” said Cathers.

When Silver asked the question a third time, Cathers signalled to Nixon to take the stand.

“I think it’s important to note that I appreciate the collaboration between the departments. I’d like to thank all their staff for their participation,” said Nixon.

Much of the controversy surrounding the government’s release of its new ideas of what the Peel plan should look like, rather than the final recommended plan, centres on the government’s failure to clearly articulate what it wanted from the plan earlier in the process.

The Environment Department saw this coming, according to a December 2011 internal memo sent by a high-ranking official.

“For future plans, propose YG providing clearer policy responses earlier in the process. Have the

tough discussion at the beginning,” wrote Shirley Abercrombie, assistant deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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