*UPDATE* A 100 person strong rally was held outside the Yukon legislative assembly yesterday to protest potential development in the Peel watershed. In an interview with the CBC, Don Roberts of the Yukoners Concerned About Oil and Gas Committee said, “Whether it has to do with mining, whether it has to do with oil and gas, Yukoners want to be consulted, and this is one of the main reasons why I think Yukoners are starting to speak out.” Despite these protests, the Yukon Party has reaffirmed its statement of principles favouring leaving the Peel watershed open to development.
The Yukon legislative assembly was cleared briefly yesterday. About 30 young people held signs in the public gallery to protest possible development in the Peel watershed. While some speculated about the NDP’s involvement—including Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers—NDP Leader Liz Hanson refuted the claim.
The protesters were part of the Peel Youth Alliance (PYA). In a press release on Wednesday, the PYA described themselves as “a group young Yukoners who care deeply about the future of wilderness preservation and industrial development in the Yukon. The PYA uses creative ways to draw attention to injustices being committed by government and industry and challenges decision makers to create fairer mining and wilderness policies.” They held signs that read: “OUR LAND. OUR PLAN. OUR GOVERNMENT??”
The protest interrupted daily Question Period. What followed was a raucous exchanged between Minister Brad Cathers and Liz Hanson over the Peel watershed, how the North Yukon plan had been handled, and the need for public consultation.
Hanson opened QP with a question about the North Yukon plan:
Mr. Speaker, Yukoners have been repeatedly told that this government wants to replicate the North Yukon plan in the Peel watershed land use plan, but let’s start at the beginning. The North Yukon plan started with provisions in the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Final Agreement that included termination of oil and gas interests in the Old Crow Flats area; establishment of the Vuntut National Park; establishment of the Old Crow Flats special management area; establishment of the Fishing Branch Wilderness Reserve; and Bear Cave Mountain. In total, these areas account for one-third of the planning region being protected even before the planning process started.
Mr. Speaker, how can the minister continue to claim that the Peel plan should be like the North Yukon plan when the two regions and starting points are so fundamentally different?
Minister Cathers responded:
Yet again we see the NDP cherrypicking excerpts from what members were saying, and the NDP is trying to paint a picture that really is in contrast to reality. As I have indicated a number of times here, one of the things that the government has said in outlining the modifications and options that we will be presenting to the public for consideration is that we think perhaps the final plan for…
It was at this moment that PYA protesters rose in the public gallery. The Speaker, David Laxton, asked the protesters to remove their signs from the gallery. When they did not comply, he cleared the legislature:
Order please. I would ask visitors in the gallery to remove their signs. Signs are not permitted in the gallery at any time. Please remove the signs. Take them down now.
Order. I will ask the Members of the Legislature to please leave the Legislature. We will recess at this particular time.
When the House resumed, Minister Cathers continued:
As I was saying before I was interrupted, the government will continue to follow through on its commitments and the approach that we outlined in the 2011 election. As the Leader of the NDP knows very well, during the 2011 election campaign, we criticized the NDP and the Liberals for committing to accept the commission’s proposed plan, and we talked about our desire to seek a final plan that protects the environment and respects all sectors of the economy and indicated that the model outlined in the North Yukon plan may be a better approach than the one that the Peel Watershed Planning Commission came up with.
To which Liz Hanson replied:
Well, in fact, the minister opposite was talking about cherry-picking, and it’s he who is cherry-picking. He wants the land managed on the basis of intensity of use as in the north Yukon, but he does not want the protection that plan affords the environment…Instead of engaging in the planning process, the government refused, over the last several years, to provide the Peel Watershed Planning Commission with any meaningful analyses or concerns. Now the government wants to rewrite the principles.
When will the minister stop promoting the false notion that the Peel plan should be like the North Yukon plan…
Minister Cathers called a point of order over Hanson’s use of the term “false notion.” She rephrased, proposing “incorrect”, which the Speaker accepted. She continued:
When will the minister stop promoting the incorrect notion that the Peel plan should be like the North Yukon plan and when will he take the final recommended Peel plan, as written, to full public consultation?
Repeating himself, Minister Cathers replied: “Mr. Speaker, what we see from the Leader of the NDP are a number of assertions which simply do not accurately reflect the facts. Again, I remind the member — as the member knows full well by this point — that of the 11 members of the Yukon Party caucus who are in government now, 10 were not in government during the response to the commission to which she referred. We will continue to follow the approach we outlined to the public in 2011 election campaign.”
Both inside and outside the legislative assembly, the Peel watershed debate has become increasingly heated. Yukon’s legislative assembly rose today for its summer recess.
Photo credit: PYA press release