by Liz Hanson
Former Whitehorse city councillor Kirk Cameron recently wrote a surprising letter of support for Premier Darrell Pasloski and the federal Conservative government’s unilateral changes to Yukon’s Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act contained in Bill S-6.
Some of Cameron’s assertions are an eerie echo of public statements by Pasloski. For example, his recommendation that S-6 pass “as is” stands alongside the premier’s insistence that Yukon First Nation governments just “let it pass.” They think that somehow, maybe, after federal legislation is passed the Yukon and Canadian governments will then sit down with First Nation governments to see what sort of compromise can be reached.
This position ignores the fact that the amendments completely contradict the assessment board’s integrity as an arm’s length organization – an independence that was negotiated and agreed upon by the governments of Canada, Yukon and the Yukon First Nations.
Cameron’s suggestion echoes federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s strange approach to Bill C-51, a highly criticized piece of legislation that he plans to vote for (even though he apparently doesn’t like it) and that he would change… if Canada makes him prime minister. This is not how Canadians govern.
At its core, Bill S-6 strikes at the heart of the compromises already made by Yukon First Nations when they negotiated Yukon’s final land claims and self-government agreements.
Pasloski and Cameron should remember that Yukon First Nations agreed to retain only 10 per cent of their traditional territories as settlement land with the express understanding that they would create a new relationship with the Yukon government based on the effective partnership and stewardship over land and resource management. The Yukon government agreed to public government bodies such as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board and the Yukon Land Use Planning Council that would operate at arm’s length from any government and would provide independent advice and recommendations.
But that independence is under threat thanks to Bill S-6. As we feel the impact of Stephen Harper and Ryan Leef’s gutting of Canada’s environmental and regulatory regimes, it’s chilling to think that a Yukon premier would ask to have a federal minister give binding policy direction to an independent Yukon body that reviews the environmental and socio-economic impacts of proposed developments. It’s even scarier to think that the same federal minister can delegate that binding power over the arm’s length body to a Yukon government minister.
The Yukon Party is now clear about their intention to pursue fracking in Yukon. Bill S-6’s one-time assessments would eliminate new evaluations for project renewals and could mean that massive resource extraction projects are only assessed once despite the ongoing evolution of the project (think Faro). Imagine: a conventional gas project could become a fracking operation without an environmental assessment.
No, Kirk, the compromises have been made. It’s time to call off the Conservative-backed Yukon Party attack on Yukon’s final agreements. They are our agreements; we all benefit from the potential of strong, government-to-government relationships.
I am thankful as a Yukoner that our First Nation governments have demonstrated a commitment to upholding the integrity of the agreements entered into on behalf of us all.
Liz Hanson is leader of the Yukon NDP Opposition.