S-6 failed to offer perfect solutions: Cathers
In a rare turnabout,
In a rare turnabout, the Yukon Party is throwing its support behind Bill C-17, federal legislation that repeals four contentious amendments made to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA) by the previous Conservative government through Bill S-6.
“Moving forward with the amendments contained in Bill C‑17 is probably the best course of action at this point in time because of the concerns by CYFN (Council of Yukon First Nations) and individual First Nations,” Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers told the House on Wednesday.
The legislative assembly unanimously voted Wednesday in favour of a motion to support the federal Liberals’ efforts to pass Bill C-17, which is currently before Parliament.
YESSA spells out the process for assessing all Yukon lands for development, and is part of the Umbrella Final Agreement between Yukon First Nations, the territory and Canada.
The changes made under Bill S-6 eased regulations for the use of Yukon lands.
When YESAA was amended in June 2015, it caused outrage among Yukon First Nations. They said the changes undermined the Umbrella Final Agreement and violated land claim agreements.
Three First Nation governments – the Teslin Tlingit Council, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations – filed suit against the federal government in Yukon Supreme Court later that year.
That lawsuit was put on hold last spring, when the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada promised Yukon First Nations during an Intergovernmental Forum in Whitehorse that the federal government would do away with Bill S-6.
The decision to back Bill C-17 represents a pivot by the Yukon Party, which was a vigorous proponent of Bill S-6, and reportedly pushed for the changes.
Indeed, during a visit to Whitehorse in 2015, then-prime minister Stephen Harper told a large room full of people the changes to YESAA were made at the urging of the-then Yukon Party government under premier Darrell Pasloski.
In the legislature on Wednesday, Cathers acknowledged concerns Yukon First Nations have with the way changes to YESAA came about, and issues with Canada’s consultation with First Nations.
There were problems with YESAA to begin with, said Cathers, and Bill S-6 proposed solutions to some of those problems.
However, he said, none of the provisions in Bill S-6 “were in fact the perfect solution to the problems that existed.”
If Bill C-17 passes, said Cathers, “there are additional changes that are required to YESAA to fix the problems that exist.”
Scott Kent, a Yukon Party MLA and the party’s previous minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, said his party supported the motion because of an amendment that came after many conversations between interim Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard and Premier Sandy Silver.
Hassard negotiated wording in yesterday’s motion that calls for a “collaborative framework” that would ensure the assessment processes is accommodating of the interests of miners and developers, as well as First Nations.
This amendment was accepted by all the MLAs.
One particularly controversial provision of Bill S-6 exempts projects up for renewal from reassessment by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB), unless there has been a significant change to the project.
First Nations have argued climate change and other forces may increase a project’s impact on the environment over time. Therefore, projects must be reassessed when they are up for re-licensing.
Kent wants the Yukon government, Chamber of Mines and CYFN to work together to keep this clause.
“It not only saves the proponent time, but it saves the taxpayers money and the assessors time as well, if they don’t have to assess an activity that won’t have a significant impact,” he said in an interview early this afternoon.
In the two years since Bill S-6 passed, 92 projects have gone up for renewal, and of those, 63 were green-lit without additional review.
Kent believes these projects shouldn’t have to go back for reassessment once Bill C-17 is passed.
“If you’ve applied before royal assent of the new bill, you should be able to finish up under the rules that you started with,” he said.
Kent is hopeful the premier and current Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai will push their federal counterparts to support grandfathering in those projects that were not reassessed when Bill S-6 was law.
The Yukon Chamber of Mines also supports Bill C-17.
Kent said his party is supportive of anything that contributes to stronger government-to-government relationships with First Nations, and that Bill C-17 “hopefully does that.”
“The federal government changed, and this is the legislation that we’re dealing with and that’s why we supported that motion,” Kent told the Star.
“Once we got at a point with the wording in the amendment where that we felt that many industry concerns could be alleviated, then we felt that’s a good opportunity to move forward.”