by David Loeks
Even people who disagree with the Peel watershed plan have a serious and compelling reason to support it. It is in their self-interest to do so.
That the vast majority of Yukoners support the plan should be clear to anyone who understands statistical analysis of professional surveys and consultation data. The support for the plan by First Nations and by people who value wildlife, the environment, and wilderness landscapes is obvious.
Add to this the support of people who believe in democratic processes, in respecting the voice of the people, in upholding the public interest, and in abiding by binding agreements. Together, these comprise the majority of Yukoners. And there are sound statistics that confirm this.
Even if they might prefer a different outcome, miners, businesspeople, both chambers of commerce and the Yukon Party should also support the plan when they consider their own self-interest.
Here is why: if you violate a contract you are doing something illegal and you get a lawsuit. This is a natural consequence.
There is nothing personal, nothing political about this. In their handling of the Peel planning process, the Yukon Party government violated both the intent and the specifics of the Umbrella Final Agreement. They are provoking a lawsuit, and they are very likely to lose it.
The most eminent authority on land claims settlements – former Chief Justice Thomas Berger – has weighed in on the side of the First Nations. If you don’t know his name, find out about him.
In the meantime, consider this: any intelligent and informed bookie would not bet against him. The likelihood that a court will find against the actions of the Yukon Party government is high. Very high. (Listen to Berger on YouTube by searching for Peel watershed – Protect Democracy.)
Now consider the uncertainty that this lawsuit will cause to the business and economic environment as it makes its way through the courts.
Add to this the unknown consequences to the free-entry system of the recent court ruling that First Nations must be consulted before staking. This ruling applies initially to First Nations which do not yet have a settlement agreement, but it may not stop there.
Now consider the Idle No More movement and how it would affect the Yukon’s resource sector if this level of frustration and direct action spreads here. Your business and your job may bear the brunt of the Yukon government’s folly.
You should not “forgive them for they know not what they do.” The government is paid to know better and to respect the interests of citizens.
In short, the Yukon Party has recklessly crawled out onto thin ice. They will lose in court and they will be compelled to accept a plan that they should have supported months ago.
The danger is that as the ice breaks, they will drag the Yukon economy down with them. They will torpedo land-use planning in the Yukon, causing paralysis in the resource sectors and they will poison co-operative relations with their First Nation partners.
It doesn’t have to go this way. Yukoners of all stripes – including the chamber of mines, the chambers of commerce, and the Yukon Party faithful – should insist that Premier Darrell Pasloski and Resources Minister Brad Cathers spare us all calamity and get off the thin ice before it breaks.
The solution is simple – accept the plan. The costs are negligible – it is an excellent plan and it does not lock up the land; it preserves future options and unlike the Yukon Party “concepts” it is the result of a widely supported, legal process.
The rewards are incalculable for us all – continued prosperity, better land use certainty from a credible land-use planning process, and healthy respectful relationships between the Yukon government and First Nations.
And we will still have the Peel watershed – intact, unspoiled, and “in the bank” as an asset that we or our children can make decisions about developing or conserving. Responsible asset management is when you don’t spend your inheritance up all at once.
The “consultation period” will end Feb. 25. Help the cabinet “get it” before it is too late.
David Loeks was chair of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.