Open letter to the parliamentary committee hearing comments on Bill S-6:
Firstly, I would like to commend the legislative drafters for basing the majority of this bill around recommendations that were put forth during the five-year review process laid out in the Umbrella Final Agreement to ensure that our Yukon-made environmental assessment process was fulfilling the purpose, objectives and principles that the UFA envisioned.
The legacy of land claims in the Yukon is a story that is still unfolding, but it commenced with a vision and unity of very strong First Nation leaders from across the territory. Here in Yukon, we still stand “Together Today for our Children Tomorrow.”
My comments echo the concerns brought forward by many of our First Nations and the Council of Yukon First Nations. I was involved in the consultation process last year as a lands manager for one of the unsigned First Nations, and was therefore privy to the process undertaken by the federal government.
My colleagues and I were disappointed that during many of the meetings, documents were provided only at the 11th hour and our team worked very hard to provide detailed and thoughtful feedback. Our comments and concerns about the legislation were raised very early in the process last year. We take issue with four clauses as follows.
1) The clause giving the federal minister binding policy-making authority over YESAB. This undermines the arm’s length body responsible for providing an objective and science-based environmental assessment. This is an unacceptable centralization of power over a region that is unique and our board and assessors are experts in our locally based issues and perspectives.
2) The clause permitting the federal minister authority to pass power to a minister from Yukon government. This undermines the important role and responsibility that the federal government has in upholding treaty and aboriginal rights as determined in section 35 of our Constitution. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act is a tripartite agreement and the roles that every party plays was clearly defined in the UFA.
3) Enforcing universal deadlines on the YESAA process. This is unnecessary. There are already numerous deadlines embedded in the process that are fulfilled the vast majority of the time. Universal deadlines will undermine a thorough environmental assessment process and put undue pressures on certain First Nation lands departments that are still working to build capacity.
4) The clause limiting the scope of projects to be reassessed. First Nations should be equal partners in determining which projects should be up for reassessment or exempt. Our northern territory is currently undergoing rapid climate change that is impacting our hydrologic cycle, permafrost and many other factors that will affect infrastructure. Reassessing projects will allow us to adaptively manage these changes and hopefully allow us to avoid catastrophic failures of important structures such as dams and roads.