Former Chair of the Peel Land Use Planning Commission baffled by government




The government is choosing to ignore the final Peel plan and take matters into its own hands, say conservation groups, the NDP and even the former chair of the planning commission.

Whitehorse Star, By Nadine Sander-Green on February 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Pictured above: DAVE LOEKS

The government is choosing to ignore the final Peel plan and take matters into its own hands, say conservation groups, the NDP and even the former chair of the planning commission.

“I assumed all parties were providing us with what we needed to know,” David Loeks, who chaired the Peel Watershed Planning Commission since it was created in 2004 said today.

“This information was was never tabled to the commission.”

Loeks was referring to the set of eight principles for planning the Peel watershed the government released to the media and the four affected First Nations Tuesday.

Although the government claims the principles take a balanced approach, many are saying the new document is the first step toward opening the watershed to industrial development.

The Yukon Party government has been silent on whether it supports the final Peel plan, evading questions during the fall election and claiming it can’t take a stance until the whole planning process is complete.

Loeks is baffled the government chose to create these principles — which he thinks are closer to “objectives” — after the commission’s work has been completed.

He and the rest of the commission’s staff worked with a set of six guiding principles throughout the planning process, which included sustainable development, conservation and the precautionary principle.

“What they’re saying is we don’t really need a planning process, we’re going to do it on our own around a table with government people,” said Loeks.

The former chair said he thinks the government would throw out the commission’s final recommendations if it wasn’t legally bound to the process through the aboriginal land claim settlements

“They allowed us to get all the way through that without saying they fundamentally disagreed with the way we were doing things,” he continued.

When Loeks revealed the final blueprint last July — which again took a conservation approach and recommended that 80 per cent of the watershed be protected — he spoke of frustrations while working with the government.

The government said it wanted more balance but was not specific as to where and why, Loeks said at the time. He believes the commission “more or less got it right” in the 2010 recommendation.

Elaine Schiman, a spokesperson for cabinet, stressed today that the government in no way is rejecting the final Peel plan, as media reports have recently suggested.

“We are modifying it,” she said.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers, told the Star Monday these principles will help Yukoners find common ground. He said they are meant to guide the plan’s modification and the upcoming rounds of public consultation.

The Liberals are applauding the government for getting the ball rolling, but are concerned about the origins of the new principles.

“My question is, where did they come from?” Darius Elias, interim Liberal leader, said this morning.

“What the Yukon Party government’s written reasons are to modify the plan, and to what extent, better be good,” he continued. “If they’re not, I predict a swift and remarkable public outcry.”

Elias is particularly concerned about two principles that focus on managing intensity of use instead of prohibiting it.

“Those are in a totally different direction from what the commission recommended,” he said.

He believes the Peel planning process is far from being over and Cathers’ goal of having it wrapped up is “pretty ambitious”.

The NDP is taking a more aggressive approach to the government’s latest announcement.

Party leader Liz Hanson called it a “frontal assault” on the territory and one that threatens the fundamental faith Yukoners have in their government.

She said when the Peel planning process began, both First Nations and the Yukon government committed to sustainable development as a main principle.

“Not once does the government speak of sustainability (in its new principles),” Hanson continued.

“To say after almost eight years ‘You know we don’t like it, we want to tell you what the rules are’, — that’s just the old bully-boy approach.”

Hanson said it’s clear the government has no intention of fulfilling its obligations under the land claim agreements.

The Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Yukon chapter were singing the same tune at a press conference yesterday.

“Now we know why the Yukon Party has never clearly expressed its vision for the Peel, either to the public or the Peel commission. It doesn’t have a vision. It wants business as usual, and it thinks it can do what it wants to in the Peel, anyway,” said Mike Dehn, executive director of CPAWS.

Karen Baltgailis, YCS’s executive director, said that if the government didn’t like the commission’s principles, it had plenty of time to object.

“Let’s be frank. What the government wants to do is gut seven years of hard work, collaboration and compromise to open the Peel to industrial development,” she said.

Chiefs from the four affected First Nations were told of the principles in a meeting with the government Tuesday. The First Nations have not yet commented on the government’s announcement.