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The Washington Post misquoted me, minister says

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 12/05) - Michael Miltenberger says there is not an open book for any development proposal in the Northwest Territories.

That's despite a quote attributed to him in the Dec. 5 edition of The Washington Post, stating "every square inch" of the Territories is open to development.

The Post is one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, equivalent in stature there to Canada's Globe and Mail.

In an article about the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline and associated resource development, the minister of environment and natural resources was quoted as saying: "Every square inch is going to be opened to diamonds, sapphires, gold, oil and gas. There's an insatiable demand. And the critical first step is the pipeline."

However, Miltenberger says the American newspaper reporter inaccurately represented his views, despite an hour-long conversation.

"He took two snippets from that hour and he didn't get it quite right," Miltenberger says.

Instead, the minister says he actually said there is "an interest to explore every square inch," keeping in mind parks and land claims.

"But whatever the development, there's a clear regulatory process," Miltenberger says.

The writer of The Washington Post article, Doug Struck, was unavailable for comment because he is on assignment in Iraq.

The quote in The Washington Post caught the attention of some people.

"There's been some calls requesting clarification," Miltenberger says.

The minister notes his office received calls from two environmental groups - the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

Daryl Sexsmith, the executive director of the NWT Chapter of CPAWS, says he would like Miltenberger to issue a statement clarifying his comments in the article.

"I was quite surprised by those comments," Sexsmith says. "Certainly, it was our understanding Mr. Miltenberger has been very supportive of the Protected Areas Strategy."

The strategy was established in 1999 to protect sensitive ecosystems and cultural sites in the NWT.

"I think it would be great to hear from the minister to reinforce his commitment to the Protected Areas Strategy," Sexsmith said.

Thursday afternoon, Premier Joe Handley said he discussed the article with Miltenberger and the environment minister re-iterated the claim that he was misquoted.

"He may have said every square inch is going to be explored... but I don't think he meant every square inch of the North is going to be disturbed," Handley said.

When asked if Miltenberger would call for a formal retraction from the Post, Handley said: "he probably will be."

- With files from Andrew Raven