North

Yellowknife fracking regulations meeting leaves public fuming

A heated four-hour public meeting meant to gather people’s thoughts about N.W.T.’s draft regulations for fracking instead unleashed a torrent of criticism about the way the government is seeking feedback.

'You're talking heads. You're puppets,' says Indio Saravanja to panel at 4-hour meeting

Yellowknife resident France Benoit took the microphone at Monday night's meeting on fracking regulations to tell the panel, 'This is not a dialogue, as far as I'm concerned.' (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

A heated four-hour public meeting meant to gather people's thoughts about N.W.T.'s draft regulations for fracking instead unleashed a torrent of criticism about the way the government is seeking feedback.

In a meeting Monday night in Yellowknife — scheduled to last two hours — the territorial government's panel spent the first hour largely recapping, in detail, the workings of N.W.T.'s regulatory system, drawing sighs from audience members.

Tasha Stephenson, the first person who took to the microphone during the Q & A session, said about 10 people from the 125-person crowd had left the session before the government's presentation was over.

Impatience became hostility when, during a lengthy answer from a panel member from the government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Indio Saravanja, one of several people waiting in line to ask a question, exclaimed, "Wrap up your shit!"

Cabinet ministers absent

People at the meeting also voiced frustration with the absence of N.W.T. cabinet members, who will ultimately decide whether to approve the regulations or not. Regular MLAs Bob Bromley (Yellowknife's Weledeh riding), Wendy Bisaro (Frame Lake) and Robert Hawkins (Yellowknife Centre) were in attendance, but Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Dave Ramsay (MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake riding) was not.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who has said he supports fracking, gave a short speech at the meeting then left just as the question and answer session began. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Ramsay was not listed this week among those ministers travelling outside the territory.

"This is not a dialogue, as far as I'm concerned," said Yellowknife resident France Benoit, to vigorous applause.

"I'd like to see the minister not hiding behind the fact that the motion [for a fracking plebiscite] did not go forward in the legislative assembly," said Benoit. "I'd like to see the minister have the courage of his convictions."

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who has said he supports fracking, gave a short speech, then left the meeting just as the Q&A session began.

"Norman Yakeleya does not speak for me," said Marie Speakman, a Yellowknife resident originally from Deline.

The stone-faced panel members — who repeatedly said their job is merely to advise the cabinet on whether to approve the regulations — took the brunt of abuse.

"You're talking heads. You're puppets," Saravanja told the panel.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said the panel had only visited one third of N.W.T.'s communities.

"We are formally requesting that you go into every community in the Northwest Territories," he told the session.

Question on disclosure of chemicals

Representatives from the N.W.T. and Yellowknife chambers of commerce also attended Monday's session. One of them, N.W.T. chamber executive director Mike Bradshaw, was in the lineup at the microphone for a chance to speak but after a lengthy wait, he, too, left the session.

Yellowknifer Ryan Fequet was one of the few people to ask a question about the regulations. Fequet wanted to know why the government isn't proposing to make it mandatory for companies to disclose the chemicals they use during fracking.

Deborah Archibald, assistant deputy minister of mineral and petroleum resources for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, said the Petroleum Resources Act prevents the government from doing that. At a media briefing earlier on Monday, she said making that change would require new legislation.

Panel members emphasized people's ability to participate in various stages of the regulatory system as a way of voicing their concerns about fracking projects.

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