COMMENTARY: After a good start, there’s more work to do on Yukon’s wetland policy

We are now lagging behind the initially proposed schedule by about four months

Jamie Kenyon

If you are a hockey fan, you may recall pundits referring to the “dreaded three-goal lead” where good progress had been made (your team is three goals ahead) before the situation goes awry.

Distraction and complacency set in, allowing that early progress to wither away as the other team catches up and takes the lead, while precious time slips away and jeopardizes the ultimate goal. This analogy can apply to many facets of life – including government policy.

While some may argue that more could have been done by now, the Government of Yukon has made excellent progress toward its previous election commitment to develop and adopt a wetland policy that will benefit all Yukoners within this mandate.

While the government deserves kudos for good early progress on the Yukon wetland policy, much work remains, and the clock is ticking. Summer has come and gone with little movement on the wetland policy.

Having a wetland policy for the Yukon is important for a number of reasons. In the ministers’ message to launch the wetland policy development process, Minister Pauline Frost and Minister Ranj Pillai touched on some of these reasons. For instance, they state “we know that wetlands are important to the environment and humans in many ways, from hosting rich biodiversity to their cultural significance for First Nation’s peoples.”

As well, the utility of a policy for aiding land management decisions was evident when they remarked that they “…expect the Government of Yukon’s wetland policy to provide guidance to industry, land managers and project assessors in their decision-making on wetlands.”

Not surprisingly, a policy that addresses environmental, cultural, and economic issues is a big undertaking that requires a lot of work.

In late November 2017, the Government of Yukon launched a well orchestrated, consultant-guided process that began with pre-engagement interviews. The intent was to ascertain how First Nation governments, industry, ENGOs and other stakeholders wished to participate.

Input was loud and clear – respondents said the policy should balance human and ecosystem values and that an all-inclusive process was necessary to develop a policy. Kudos to the Government of Yukon for taking that direction to heart. While an all-inclusive policy process can often be more challenging, and sometimes a bit slower – there is ample evidence to suggest these more robust processes often lead to better and more enduring policies and decision-making frameworks.

Fast forward to the spring of 2019 – much has been accomplished as can be seen on the wetland policy website. Four roundtable sessions have been held to hear the diverse interests of government officials, Yukon First Nation governments, transboundary First Nations, Renewable Resource Councils, various industries, numerous ENGOs and other boards and councils with an interest in land and water management.

In addition, a technical subcommittee representing a cross section of this very diverse, all-inclusive round table group has been hard at work to translate the round table discussions into draft policy content for consideration. This excellent progress to date is analogous to a three-goal lead in hockey.

Unfortunately, we are now lagging behind the initially proposed schedule by about four months and the 3-goal lead is beginning to slip away. According to the timeline proposed by Government of Yukon, the final policy was to be approved by Government of Yukon in early 2020.

A draft policy still needs to be presented to and ratified by the round table participants. Then it will be vetted through public review prior to the very important penultimate step of government to government consultation before final Government of Yukon approval can occur.

One might presuppose we have plenty of time to achieve all of that with the next territorial government election likely occurring sometime in 2021. But time, at least in the political context, is running out. Time often has a way of slipping away particularly as a government’s finite mandate nears its end. It is not unusual for governments to become distracted with “pre-election posturing” a full year or more prior to the election.

With a considerable amount of work left to be done within this mandate, Government of Yukon would be well advised to re-focus energy over the course of the next year to capitalize on the early momentum gained so far. This will ensure Government of Yukon can fulfill its election promise.

Recognizing the loss of momentum that leads to the loss of a comfortable lead in hockey is difficult but good awareness and a commitment to doing what is needed to maintain momentum will allow the game to be won.

When it comes to something as critically important as a wetland policy that will benefit all Yukoners, the Government of Yukon must remain focused, vigilant and committed to achieving the end goal and not get distracted, complacent or indifferent. Let’s make sure we capitalize on the excellent early progress to date.

Jamie Kenyon is a Conservation Programs Specialist with Ducks Unlimited Canada in Whitehorse. He has lived in Whitehorse for 12 years.