High hopes, big expectations greet Yukon's new government

First Nations, conservationists, and miners are greeting the Liberal win this week with hope, and an expectation that promises will be fulfilled.

Sandy Silver's Liberals swept to power this week promising 'inclusive' government

Yukon's premier-designate Sandy Silver with some new Liberal MLAs, presenting their election platform in Whitehorse last month. (CBC)

First Nations, conservationists, miners and the business community are all greeting the Liberal win this week with some hope, and expectations that campaign promises will be fulfilled.

The Liberal Party, led by Sandy Silver, swept to power in Monday's territorial election, winning a majority government and ousting the conservative Yukon Party after 14 years. 

It did so on a wide-ranging platform of "inclusive, accountable government with a balanced approach."

A central plank of the Liberal plan is to renew the relationship with Yukon's First Nations, primarily by honouring self-government agreements, and promising "strong, transparent government-to-government relationships."

That's music to the ears of Peter Johnston, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN).

"We definitely need to look at some issues that have been somewhat forgotten," he said.

"A lot of the time, we're just considered a stakeholder in the community when, respectfully, the chief and council of each respective community and First Nation should be involved, in regards to community planning in particular, to their region."

Johnston has already met with Silver since the election, and is expecting many more meetings in the weeks and months ahead. He wants to discuss issues such as land use planning, housing, infrastructure, and mining.   

"I think at this point now... we can have those discussions, build plans that are reflective of the needs and the demands of our communities."

Michael Pealow of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce also welcomes the government's promise of a "collaborative approach" and says part of that is involves honouring First Nations' agreements.

"Other than just being the right thing to do — to honour our agreements with First Nations — these agreements help to provide certainty to industry, to the business community and to investors outside of the territory," Pealow said.

Peel plan, fracking

Christina Macdonald, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), is also ready to hold the new government to its campaign promises, particularly when it comes to the Peel watershed land use plan.

The Liberals have promised to accept the final report of the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission. (Juri Peepre)

"It's absolutely fantastic to know that we have a government in place that is willing to stand by, to uphold the land use planning process that we all contributed to as Yukoners," she said.

The Yukon Party government's rejection of the original Peel plan fuelled widespread opposition and prompted a series of court battles that have not yet been settled.

YCS is also pleased that the Liberals have promised there will be no fracking in Yukon. The Yukon Party government was prepared to allow fracking in the territory's southeast, but the Liberals promised to place an immediate moratorium on fracking in Yukon.

Macdonald says when her organization went door-knocking during the campaign to take to voters, "time and again we heard that their number one concern was fracking.

"[The Liberals] have made the right sounds, and now we're looking for them to take the right actions."

Sandy Silver's campaign headquarters in Dawson City. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Placer miners want 'every penny' of carbon tax back

Macdonald is also pleased that the Liberals support a carbon tax, something the Yukon Party tried to make a central theme of the election campaign. The Yukon Party said it would fight the federal plan to impose carbon pricing.

The issue didn't seem to catch on with many voters, although the Klondike Placer Miners' Association (KPMA) did echo the Yukon Party's concerns that a carbon tax would be a heavy cost to bear.

The Liberals have promised to work with the federal government to ensure all funds collected through carbon pricing come back to Yukoners as rebates.

"We're quite interested to hear the details of that plan, and how every penny of placer miners' money is going to end up back in the same placer miners' pocket at the end of the day, said Jonas Smith of the KPMA.

"Isn't that what 'revenue-neutral' means?"

Smith says he's pleased the new premier is from the Klondike ("we see it as advantageous") and says he's "quite eager" to see how the Liberals will forge a new relationship with First Nations.

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation in Dawson City has been involved in some recent disputes over mining claims in Dawson City. Silver has said it's up to the Yukon government to find resolution.

Smith says he's eager to see how the Liberals will forge a new relationship with First Nations.

"We all know that when things end up in courts, it's very rare that any party is happy with the end result of that process," he said.

"We are very much looking forward to hearing the details of their new approach."

With files from Nancy Thomson


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