transparent approval

Before devolution, there was the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. After devolution came the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment…

Before devolution, there was the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

After devolution came the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. Under it, reviews are conducted by a seven-member board.

It represents the much-ballyhooed one-window approach to screening economic development projects.

“The new act will create a process whereby the environmental and socio-economic effects of a wide range of development activities are carefully assessed and considered before a project is approved,” according to a federal backgrounder.

Note the absence of the words, “or rejected.”

And, it’s becoming clear the one-window approach to rubber-stamping projects works great.

Take the recent application for a hay farm on Shallow Bay.

The assessment board spent almost three months evaluating the proposal to ramp up farming activity on a chunk of land in a First Nation’s traditional territory that is currently held under lease.

It received hundreds of pages of correspondence from more than 10 groups.

Though some supported the project, most detailed worries about the impact of the farm on fish and bird habitat.

The farm proposal was challenged by Environment Canada, the Yukon Bird Club, the Yukon Conservation Society and First Nations, among others.

The Ta’an Kwach’an and Kwanlin Dun First Nations cited the project’s overlap with a traditional fish camp and several historic areas, including gravesites.

Privatizing the land would block access to historic and subsistence hunting sites, said Ta’an lands manager John Pattimore.

The groups clearly spent much time and effort drafting their concerns. A lot of that research had to be done through the busy Christmas season.

On February 8, the assessment board submitted its 27-page report on the farm proposal to the agriculture branch of Energy, Mines and Resources.

It summarized the concerns and concluded they could not be mitigated.

After its months-long review, it recommended the project be rejected.

“The project will have significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effect that cannot be mitigated,” concluded the review board.

Wrong, said agriculture branch director Tony Hill.

On March 9, he approved the project, shaving it to 42 hectares, from 63, suggesting setbacks from the site of the traditional fish camp and citing a pledge by the proponent not to disturb historic sites.

Simple.

Which raises a question.

Why does the Yukon bother to have an assessment board?

Why does it pay for a board to gather considered opinions from concerned citizens and organizations, to sift through those submissions and make recommendations if they can be dismissed so easily?

Clearly, the considerable effort by the aggrieved parties was wasted.

So why would anyone participate in the future? (RM)