Pro-preservationists jam Peel watershed event
It was standing room only at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS’) Peel consultation Wednesday evening
It was standing room only at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS’) Peel consultation Wednesday evening as concerned residents shared their reasons for supporting the planning commission’s final recommended plan.
While wilderness values and First Nations traditions were featured at the town hall-style meeting, protecting the democratic process was also at the forefront of discussion.
Kate White, the NDP Environment critic, spoke toward the end of the two-hour session and encouraged attendees to continue sharing their views.
“Everybody in this room believes in democracy, first and foremost,” she said.
Dave Loeks, the chair of the Peel Planning Commission, criticized the open house format the government chose for this final round of public consultation.
“We had in the Peel Planning Commission six years of open meetings like this and they looked very much like what we have in this room right now – Yukoners, citizens, people of all stripes, who were able to see each other, look each other in the eye, hear what they had to say, sometimes debate.
“That, to me, is what public consultation is about. I frankly don’t recognize what’s going on next door,” he said.
The CPAWS event was held in the room next to the government-run Peel consultation at the Gold Rush Inn.
YTG’s consultation is set up as an open house.
Visitors have the opportunity to speak with officials and ask questions about wilderness and other values in the Peel watershed on the right side of the room, or about the government planning concepts or the final recommended plan on the left side of the room.
In an interview today, Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers provided several reasons why the government opted for the open house format.
He noted the open house runs all week for eight hours a day, providing plenty of opportunity for people to drop in and ask questions whenever it fits with their schedule, as opposed to a single town-hall style meeting.
“We’ve heard from members of the public that are intimidated by that format, and especially when there are some in the room with very passionate views on the subject.
“They feel intimidated by expressing a viewpoint that is different than that of somebody who just stood up and delivered their view point in very strong terms,” he said.
“We’re trying to provide more opportunity for citizens to comment in a manner that they’re comfortable with.”
In previous consultations there have been occasions where staff have been made to feel uncomfortable during town-hall style meetings, he added.
The government opted to post comments after the consultation period rather than live posting to allow respondents a sense of privacy.
He noted that during recent consultations media highlighted certain comments, which some citizens were not comfortable with.
For those that do wish to make their views public Cathers said they have the option to write letters to the editor or call into radio programs.
Some businesses, he said, have expressed concern about commenting on issues publicly for fear of alienating customers who may have different or strongly held views. Those concerns also contributed to the decision to hold the open house-style consultation and to post the comments after the period closes, he indicated.
Comments will still be disclosed at the end of the consultation period.
Ultimately the message that came out of last night’s session was, as CPAWS’ Theresa Gulliver put it, that “we already have a very fair and balanced plan.
“(The final recommended plan) provides for certainty, which is something that we all want,” she said.
Malcolm Boothroyd, a founding member of the Peel Youth Alliance, shared his reasons for wanting to protect the Peel after he and other members of the group sent a visual message to the government by tearing up copies of YTG’s planning concepts for the watershed.
“Whenever other Canadians ask me what life is like in the Yukon, the first thing that I always talk about is the wilderness that we are so privileged to be surrounded by,” Boothroyd said.
“I talk about the beauty of our mountains, the vastness of our glaciers, the coldness of our rivers. I talk about the shivers that run down your spine when you spot a grizzly bear lumbering across the tundra,” he said.
“There are too few places in this country and on this planet where you can drink water straight from a stream and know that that water has not been contaminated by any industrial development upstream.
“In the Yukon, we have the chance to create a legacy of wilderness preservation,” Boothroyd noted.
“As First Nations people know, as hikers and paddlers know, as hunters and trappers know, as everybody here tonight knows, industrial development and a healthy Peel watershed are mutually exclusive.”
Loeks noted that in developing the commission’s final recommended plan, consideration was given to “intergenerational equity” as well.
“There’s not much of this kind of land left. This continent was once a hundred per cent like this and we’re now looking at the small remnants; we’re fighting over the crumbs that our great-grandparents thought would never ever be exhausted,” Loeks said
“If you adopt the kind of position we did, you have options you can always develop in the future, but if you develop now, you shut doors,” he said.
Loeks was given a standing ovation toward the end of the evening for his work as the commission’s chair.
Other speakers over the course of the evening included an outfitter, a veteran guide, the vice-president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon and Sarah Jerome, an elder from Fort McPherson, N.W.T.
Jerome, while a citizen of the Northwest Territories, grew up on the banks of the Road River, 18 miles inside the Yukon/N.W.T. border.
Her parents, she said, “were the keepers of the land.”
“They taught us that we had to take care of this beautiful land up there.
“My parent organization the Gwich’in Tribal Council of Fort McPherson did support the original plan of 80 per cent non-development in that area, but because I live on the Peel River and was born and raised there, I say hundred per cent protection of that land,” said Jerome.
The government has said consistently since the October 2011 election that it feels the Peel land use plan should be modified to be more “fair and balanced,” leading to the development of new land use designations and the creation of four plan concepts, which are included in the final round of consultation.
The government open house runs until 5 p.m. today and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Gold Rush Inn.
Consultation will close Feb. 25.