Debate on environmental assessment changes begins in the House
Parliamentary debate on changes to Yukon’s environmental regime began in Ottawa today.
Aboriginal Affairs Minster Bernard Valcourt introduced the bill, which will amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
He said that the amendments will strengthen Yukon’s ability to compete in an increasingly globalized world and help ensure long-term prosperity for Canada’s North.
Some Yukon First Nation chiefs are in Ottawa this week to express their opposition to certain amendments in the bill they say undermine their final agreements with Yukon and Canada.
Valcourt said he met with a number of chiefs this morning.
“I want to acknowledge their important contributions to the development of this bill,” he said in the House, adding that he looks forward to their continued participation through the parliamentary process.
The First Nations have said they will take legal action if Bill S-6 proceeds as tabled.
They oppose in particular changes that would allow the federal minister to give policy direction to the assessment board, would allow the federal minister to delegate powers to the territorial minister, and would impose end-to-end timelines on the assessment process.
But Valcourt said that consultation on the bill has been extensive, and that he sees no conflict between the proposed changes and First Nation agreements.
“I’m still waiting for anyone to show me where these violate the Umbrella Final Agreement,” he said.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef asked Valcourt to reassure the House and Yukoners that there are specific provisions that ensure that this is the case.
Valcourt responded that yes, the act specifically spells out that, in the event of a conflict, the Umbrella Final Agreement will prevail.
Dennis Bevington, NDP MP for the Northwest Territories, said that the only way to resolve such a conflict would be through a legal challenge.
“We’re ending up with another bill that will end up in the courts,” he said.
“Why is this government moving in this direction?”
Liberal MP Yvonne Jones similarly criticized the government for yet another piece of legislation that is “off side” from the wishes of First Nations.
Valcourt responded that the government of Canada believes that nothing in the bill violates agreements with First Nations, and that adequate consultation has occurred.
If First Nations disagree, “they are welcome to use the court,” he said.
“That’s the genius of this great country of ours.”
Bevington also criticized the government for not consulting with Yukoners on the controversial parts of the bill. Democracy requires the participation of the public, he said.
The government of Canada has not sought the input of Yukoners to date on most of the contents of Bill S-6, including all of the amendments opposed by First Nations.
Bevington called the government’s actions “attack on Yukoners’ democratic rights and the constitutional rights of First Nations.”
Leef has recently voiced his support to send the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the bill to the Yukon to hear from the public.