It was a polite, but decidedly partisan, crowd of about 100 of Yukon's more prominent environmental activists who turned out for an all-party election forum on Tuesday at Whitehorse's Beringia Centre. The event was hosted by the Yukon Conservation Society and CPAWS.

While there were no surprises from the four delegates (representing the Liberals, NDP, Yukon Party and Green Party), all were asked to clarify their party's position on the Peel watershed land use dispute

The legal battle is now before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Delegates were asked if they would support the original Peel Land Use plan, which would protect 80 per cent of the region from development, compared to the Yukon Party government's plan which would protect just 30 per cent. 

NDP leader Liz Hanson (Whitehorse Centre) said her party would hire new, Peel-friendly lawyers.

Peel watershed

The Peel watershed covers an area roughly the size of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

"Our instructions to the new lawyers would be to basically be a friend to the [original] plan," she told the crowd.

John Streicker, Liberal candidate for Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, agreed and wants to ensure future land use planning exercises don't end up in the courts.

"It's the wrong tool altogether," said Streicker. "We need to reinvest in land use planning."

Green Party candidate Kristina Calhoun (Riverdale North) also supports the original Peel plan, as approved by Yukon First Nations.

"This was eight years of consultation. This is the public, this is the stakeholders, this is what they want and this is what the Green Party supports." 

The Yukon Party's rookie candidate Danny Macdonald, running in Riverdale South, was left to answer for years of Yukon government litigation, drawing groans from the crowd after conceding that the Peel region is important.

"Everyone now understands there will be significant protection for the Peel," Macdonald stated.

"We have to sit down with First Nation governments [after the court ruling] — government to government — and negotiate, to determine what that [protection] is." 

Off-road vehicle regulations

Macdonald also responded to environmental lobbyists looking for regulations to manage off-road vehicle use in the territory.

Macdonald told the crowd a re-elected Yukon Party government would work with First Nations and other user groups to develop regulations that were inclusive and not disadvantageous to hunters or trappers, or the outfitting, tourism, or mineral exploration sectors.

ATV damage Yukon

The Trails Only Yukon Association (TOYA) has lobbied for regulations on ATV use in the territory, to avoid environmental damage. (Trails Only Yukon Association)

That didn't impress Philip Merchant, activist with the Yukon Trails Only Association (TOYA).

"We've seen five years of foot-dragging and no end in sight, so it pretty much establishes where I'm not going to vote," Merchant said. 

"No management of ATVs in the wilderness is coming from the current government, and certainly none are coming if they are re-elected."

Calhoun, who is the former leader of the Yukon Green Party, applauded the attention to environmental issues, urging the forum crowd to hold candidates to their word.

"You may have noticed the other parties falling over themselves to talk about their green policies," Calhoun said.

"Like it or not, this is partly because of the Yukon Green Party. Whatever the outcome, hold the next government — whoever it is — to the environmental promises made to you here this evening."