Mr. Silver: I have a question for the Premier. Over the weekend, Yukoners learned that the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation signed its intent to join the appeal for the Peel land use court case.
In announcing its decision, VGFN said that it has concerns regarding the Government of Yukon’s conduct during the later stages of the Peel planning process. This brings to three the total number of Yukon First Nations now involved in this court action against the Yukon Party government.
In light of this new development, will the Government of Yukon abandon its appeal of this court case?
Hon. Mr. Pasloski: After the Yukon Supreme Court decision on the Peel, our legal advice received was that we had a strong case for appeal, Mr. Speaker.
Nevertheless, we went to the First Nations to pursue an out-of-court arrangement that everybody could live with. We did this because our government would prefer an out-of-court decision on this issue. However, First Nations were not interested in an out-of-court arrangement. This left us with our current situation: preparing for an appeal. Our goal, as I have stated repeatedly, is to achieve clarity on the land use planning process and assurance that democratically elected public governments have the final say over what happens on public land.
Mr. Silver: If the Premier wanted an out-of-court decision on this, he should have shown up for the consultation stage.
The VGFN says it will support the Na Cho Nyäk Dun and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in on all Peel-related matters. They have formally lined up to fight this government in court. It’s very unfortunate that it has to come to this, but it’s no surprise, given how this government treats those who disagree with it. The VGFN has specifically identified concerns regarding the Yukon government’s conduct during the later stages of the Peel planning process that resulted in their getting involved in this court case. They also said that they will continue to be vigilant to protect the integrity of their land claims agreement, including a land use plan provision. When I hear statements like this, Mr. Speaker, I pay attention. VGFN obviously feels its agreement is under attack.
In light of this new development, will the Government of Yukon abandon its appeal of this court decision?
Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Of course we know that the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation did actually go through the consultation and signed on and approved the Yukon government’s proposed land use plan for the Peel region.
Mr. Speaker, our overall goal with regard to the Peel has been clearly stated a number of times, and that is clarity on land use planning processes. That said, after the Yukon Supreme Court case, we did approach the First Nations on a number of levels to suggest a negotiated solution that we could all live with. This was not an unusual approach for this government. We work together with many partners in many ways.
A recent example is the court case between the Yukon government and the French school board. While the court case proceeded all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, we worked together with CSFY to find mutual goals. Now that we have a decision in that case, we are continuing to talk and to work together with the school board. Our goal in that instance is to find a solution without the need to go to court.
In the case of the Peel, our goal is clarity on the land use planning process and assurance that democratically elected public governments have the final say on what happens on public land.
Mr. Silver: It’s very disappointing to hear that this government’s preferred course of action is to fight Yukoners in court.
The VGFN says it supports the Peel commission’s final recommended plan. It says it has concerns regarding the Yukon government’s conduct during the later stages of the Peel planning process. How does the government respond to these concerns? Well, “see you in court” — the same response that they gave to other Yukon First Nations who wanted to see the Peel land use plan implemented. We now know that the government has already spent thousands of dollars fighting this in court. We know the government has recently hired a very expensive Toronto firm called Torys LLP to fight the continuing case.
Can the Premier at least let Yukoners know how much this court battle will cost Yukon taxpayers in legal fees alone?
Hon. Mr. Pasloski: As I’ve noted, our government was interested in finding a solution that all parties could live with, achieving this out of court. As Premier, I spoke to the chiefs of the First Nations, our lawyers spoke to the First Nation lawyers and our government staff spoke with First Nation staff. In all cases, the answer to our offer was no. We fully understand their right to make this decision, but it was a disappointment to us, because we would prefer to not be in court. We would prefer to work together to find solutions as partners, as we have done in so many other cases.
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