The vice-chair of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission has resigned in protest of a decision by the Yukon government not to pause speculative staking in the area during the process.
“I believe my effectiveness in fulfilling the responsibilities of a Commission member have been severely compromised,” wrote Art Webster, in an email dated Sept. 8 addressed to Premier Sandy Silver.
In the legislature on Oct. 26, MLA Liz Hanson challenged the government on the resignation, suggesting that the current process is setting up for another legal battle similar to the Peel watershed.
The goal of the Dawson Regional Planning Commission is to develop a plan for the 39,854-square-kilometre area, including use of land, water, renewable and non-renewable resources.
The process is also part of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s final agreement, as it will set out a plan for a large area of the nation’s traditional territory. Four of the current five members of the Commission are Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens.
In February the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government requested the Commission to recommend the Yukon government temporarily pause mineral staking in the area while the land planning process took place. The Commission felt they could not issue that recommendation, but attempted to facilitate a meeting between the First Nation and the government to discuss the issue.
In February the Yukon government declined the invitation.
In particular, Webster’s resignation letter cites how the Commission has identified part of the northern Dawson region as a potential wilderness area, but the Yukon government has approved applications for mineral exploration in the area. If an active mineral claim exists in an area it becomes harder to designate it as a wilderness area, according to Webster.
“Public opinion certainly supports responsible mining operations in our Territory, but surely not everywhere,” he wrote.
The government’s position is that staking should not be put on hold until the release of a draft plan.
“What we’ve committed to is to say we’re going to wait for that process. When we have a draft plan, then we can move to put in the moratorium. We believe that areas that potentially were staked previous to this process, that there’s still a way to deal with that,” Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai told media Oct. 26.
Pillai said the Dawson area has important mineral resources, conservation value, heritage sites and traditional areas for trapping and hunting. Many of these sites overlap, making it important for the Commission to be balanced and consider all factors.
“It’s all in the same place,” he said. “We’re hearing that the Commission is working very well together. The Commission continues to make good progress.”
Pillai said safeguards still exist in the existing approval process for claims.
Webster, who is a former NDP MLA, said he believes that some of the remaining members share his view and will continue to do good work on the commission.
The NDP said the issue has the potential to become another Peel watershed if the government is not careful. Hanson said the government should have met with the Commission and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government to discuss the proposal.
“What you do is you create more division in the community than necessary. I just don’t think that that’s the path that governments should be following,” Hanson said. “To say that you’re going to wait for the draft plan [for a moratorium], I think that’s just going to invite a repeat of the Peel plan.”
Correction: This article was corrected Oct. 29 to reflect that it was Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government, not the Commission itself, that sought a pause on mineral staking in the area from the Yukon government.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org