YTG’s response to Peel plan a tough sell

Only one group sounded happy with the Yukon government's rejection of the recommended Peel Watershed land-use plan this week. The Yukon Chamber of Mines.

Only one group sounded happy with the Yukon government’s rejection of the recommended Peel Watershed land-use plan this week.

The Yukon Chamber of Mines.

“We are obviously pleased that measures are being taken to respond to the plan,” said Michael Wark, the chamber’s executive director.

The plan, which recommends that 80 per cent of the watershed be protected, must be reworked, the Yukon government announced last Friday.

It must make room for more uses like mining, the government said.

“We have maintained all along that the recommended plan is not balanced nor fair,” said Wark.

And now the government is saying “that the plan deserves modification,” he said.

The chamber’s reaction to the government approach is the exception to the rule.

Most other public voices were disappointed with the government’s four-page news release explaining its position.

There’s nothing wrong with the pro-conservation plan as it stands now, Darren Taylor, the natural resources director for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, said in a news release.

“The recommendation made by the Planning Commission is entirely consistent with Chapter 11 of our Agreements,” he said.

“The recommendation is also balanced and considered all views.”

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in is one of the four First Nations the Yukon government must negotiate with to hash out a formal response to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which released its recommended plan last December.

All four First Nations have called for 100 per cent of the Peel to be protected.

“(The Tr’ondek Hwech’in) have been very clear on what we want to see in the region and so have the vast majority of Yukoners,” said Taylor.

“The recent views expressed by the Yukon government, however, only address the problems they perceive with the planning process and not what they’d like to see in the area.”

In the political arena, both opposition parties slammed the government’s position.

The government is criticizing the plan because it believes the planning commission wavered from the land-use planning’s original intent, set out in the Umbrella Final Agreement.

“If they felt that there was an interpretation issue, it should have been dealt with right at the onset,” said Darius Elias, the Liberal MLA for Old Crow.

“They had a whole year, just like everybody else, to look at this plan in some detail and to comment on it,” he said.

“They chose to comment on it on Friday afternoon, at 5:30, just before the Christmas holidays were about to begin.

“It’s just surreptitious to me.”

The government is acting on the wrong side of public opinion, he said.

“They know they’re going to be held accountable at the polls,” he said. “They will do anything to try and stall this process because they’re desperate.”

The government’s suggestion the planning commission misinterpreted the Umbrella Final Agreement is a red herring, said Elizabeth Hanson, NDP leader and the newly-minted Whitehorse Centre MLA.

“It’s a strange statement to make at this late date,” she said. “We knew what the plan said a year ago. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense.”

The government helped appoint the commission, she said.

“We need to keep in mind that these treaties, these final agreements with First Nations aren’t historic treaties,” she said.

“They weren’t written in arcane language. They’re crafted by all three parties coming to the table with equally capable legal counsel, with technical expertise on all sides of the table.

“People knew what they were doing.”

The government’s just making up an excuse, she said.

“Because you don’t like the recommendation, you say they’ve misinterpreted the agreement – I don’t think they’ve misinterpreted the agreement at all.”

Conservation groups, who have staked a lot of time and money on getting the Peel protected, also don’t believe the UFA-misinterpretation argument.

“Clearly their view of the interpretation of the final agreements differs from the Yukon Conservation Society’s, CPAWS’s, the affected First Nations’ and the Yukon public,” said Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society.

“If you look at the final agreement as a whole, they speak to a much stronger level of influence or control by the First Nations over their traditional territory,” she said.

The recommended plan doesn’t ban mining development in 80 per cent of the Peel, just road access for that section.

“It’s clear from both the press release and the background document that the Yukon government wants road and rail access to be allowed in the Peel Watershed,” she said.

The Yukon government, while trying to make things sound amicable, is throwing the opinions of most Yukoners under the bus, said Gill Cracknell, a conservation campaigner with the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“The commission did a very good job of explaining why they resulted with the conclusions that they did,” she said.

“They listened to the people of the Yukon. They listened to First Nations, they listened to environmental organizations that have a specific knowledge about the environment.

“So it’s remarkable that the government seems to be not supporting their conclusion in any way or form at the moment.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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