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Broken Promise: Yukon Government Reneges on the Watershed Agreement

Tucked away in the Northeast of Canada’s Yukon Territory, the Peel watershed is home to some of the largest glaciers and peaks in the country. Vast expanses of tundra, forests and wetlands make room for a diverse array of caribou, lynx, sheep as well as bears, wolves and other wildlife that co-exist in one of the few places in North America where a predator-prey ecosystem is still flourishing. In recent years however, this area has gone through a drastic jump in human population, a result of mining companies intending to exploit the area known to be rich in zinc, copper, iron and uranium.  

Measuring about 67,000 square kilometres, roughly the size of Nova Scotia, the watershed had been established as a preservation area by the Peel Planning Commission in 2011. This was done through a public consultation process that took five years to execute at a cost of $1.6 million dollars. Sensitive to the demands of existing populations of Aboriginal people within the region, as well as wildlife advocates and environmentalists, the Commission found overwhelming public support for the preservation of the watershed, calling for the protection of up to 80% of the region. This would allow for the remaining 20% of the land to be used for staking, mining and other economic endeavours.

All of this progress came to a screeching halt last month when the government of Yukon, led by Premier Darrel Pasloski, announced their intentions to renege on the agreements set out in 2011, thereby reducing the proportion of protected lands from 80% to a minuscule 29%. Furthermore, they intend on allowing miners to build roads within these new, revised Cialis “protected” areas in order to reach and develop existing mineral sites. In essence, they are going back on over five years of well-formed, democratic negotiations and replacing them with the interests of mining and development firms.

Calling this a violation of land claims treaties, First Nations and conservation groups are planning legal action, led by renowned Canadian aboriginal rights lawyer Thomas Berger“The government is not entitled to say, ‘All that consultation was interesting, but it really means nothing and we’re still allowed to do whatever we want to do,'” said Berger, in an interview with National Geographic. “They can’t open up the whole thing again.” Unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what the Government of Yukon did when they made the announcement last month. 

The case can undoubtedly be made for the Peel Watershed as a possible site for mineral development. There’s no doubt about the possibility for mining and other activities that could create jobs and stimulate the economies of the Yukon and surrounding areas. However, this potential raises a few key questions. Does that give the government license to take back a promise made to the people who call this piece of land their home? What’s more, does it allow them to flip their established compromise on its head, and sell off more than half of what they had originally promised?

The demands of commerce are obviously a high priority in the current economic and environmental climate, but nothing should overshadow the importance of having collaborative, multilateral democratic processes when deciding on the future of our country.

– Jesse Polowin

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