The Yukon government is rejecting the Peel Watershed land-use plan by citing sections of the Umbrella Final Agreement that don’t exist.
The Energy, Mines and Resources Department threw down the gauntlet on the Peel Watershed Planning Commission Friday afternoon, accusing the six-member commission of misinterpreting the land-use planning law.
After a six-year review of the issue, delivered in a 300-page report, the commission recommended protecting 80 per cent of the watershed.
Government officials said the commission doesn’t understand the Umbrella Final Agreement and, in particular, Chapter 11, which mandates the creation of land-use plans across the Yukon.
“There’s certainly work yet to be done on this, and that is why a process has been established,” said Minister Patrick Rouble on Monday morning.
But it isn’t easy to nail down the government’s reasons for rejecting the plan.
Its argument relies on the claim the commission misinterpreted Chapter 11’s objectives.
“Yukon government feels the interpretation wasn’t as balanced as Chapter 11 reads,” said the department’s senior planner Jen Meuren on Monday afternoon.
“If you read Chapter 11, it’s got a suite of objectives, and the intent of the final agreement is that all of those objectives are considered equally and applied equally,” she said.
“Certain objectives weren’t considered.”
Which objectives? Meuren wouldn’t say.
“We’re not getting into specifics,” she said.
“This is now a period where we say, ‘Here are our views on the table to discuss in a dialogue with the other parties.’
“In terms of being prescriptive and saying, look at this objective more and look at that one less, that’s not where we’re going.
“It’s more of an overall reconsideration of emphasis.”
Pressed, Meuren pointed to “sustainable development, the precautionary principle, a balance of land uses” as objectives the commission left out.
“Those are all words you would find in Chapter 11,” she said.
But you can’t.
“Balance of land uses” is nowhere to be found in Chapter 11.
The government’s reliance on “balance of land uses” is crucial because it is code for less protection and more mining.
On Tuesday, Meuren was asked to show where “balance of land uses” appears in Chapter 11.
She amended her previous comments.
“I wasn’t saying this phrase occurs,” she said.
“The terminology was perhaps off.”
Instead, she meant to say Chapter 11 mentions different land uses.
“There’s a number of clauses that point to accommodation of mixed land uses,” she said.
That’s not exactly true.
Chapter 11 cites six objectives. They are: create land-use plans, minimize land-use conflicts, promote First Nation values, use traditional knowledge, recognize First Nations’ responsibilities for land management and ensure sustainable development.
Some of these clauses mention the existence of different land uses.
The final objective references the need to co-ordinate economic policies to ensure sustainable development.
So, the commission must ensure the environmental impacts of different land uses are considered as a whole, not in isolation.
Government interprets this differently.
It sees it as a command to ensure mining isn’t snuffed out.
“(The objective) implies there’s a mixture of land uses (as a result of the land-use planning process),” she said.
She also cited Chapter 11’s second objective, which calls on the commission to minimize land-use conflicts.
The commission must ensure different users of the land get along.
But it doesn’t say different land uses must all be propped up equally.
The government’s analytical leap is that the mention of different land uses means they all must exist into the future.
“Chapter 11 implies that there could be a mixture of land uses,” said Meuren. “I don’t think it’s an out-there interpretation.”
Earlier, Rouble was even more vague about how the commission misinterpreted the act.
The commission was being too narrow in its reading of Chapter 11, he said at first.
“The territorial government has a broader lens with which to look through this document,” he said, citing unnamed federal and territorial legislation and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
He suggested land-use planning undermines zoning policies in other legislation.
“We also have to recognize the other tools that we have for protection, whether those are working on special management areas with Yukon First Nations,” he said.
“By being involved in a special management process, it would actually give several First Nations greater involvement in managing those areas than they would otherwise have.”
But, in fact, land-use plans are supposed to guide that other legislation.
The government’s position on the land-use plan, released in a news release Friday afternoon, is noticeably devoid of figures or specific changes to the plan.
Specifics are not needed now, said Rouble.
“I’m going to encourage folks to, rather than seek a particular number or a particular position, that we look at all of the interests involved, an interest-based process as we’ve been mandated to do as we continue to go through this,” he said.
“It is a bit of a challenge in going through this process where, in fact, people have taken specific positions or drawn lines in the sand, if you will, and all of the governments involved have a responsibility to the interests of all Yukoners.”
“At this stage, I can’t tell you what the final plan will look like because we still have a process to get there.”
The government has had a year to consider the commission’s plan, but can’t release details at this point, said Rouble.
Meuren rejected the notion that Friday’s news release was a bona fide position, even if that’s what the First Nations, who demanded the information be released much earlier, were calling it.
“These aren’t positions and this isn’t the final response to the commission,” she said.
“These are just points of discussion.”
The Yukon government now has to conduct those discussions with the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
They all want 100 per cent protection for the Peel Watershed.
Now all five governments must fashion a response to the commission within a year. The commission will respond to that joint response.
Rouble was aware giving the government position in a news release issued on a Friday afternoon before Christmas holidays was a questionable decision.
“I know everyone would have liked to have received it earlier or later this week – I don’t know,” said Rouble.
“People seem to always complain when we send things out on Fridays. I could have waited until Monday.”
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