Parliamentary spat delays debate on Yukon environmental assessment bill

Debate on a bill that would repeal contentious amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment legislation was delayed in the House of Commons, a casualty of the Opposition’s attempt to stall the federal budget.

Debate on a bill that would repeal contentious amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment legislation was delayed in the House of Commons, a casualty of the Opposition’s attempt to stall the federal budget.

Bill C-17 was slated for second reading on March 22, just before the budget was tabled.

But Conservative MPs, upset about recent proposed changes to House procedure they say would limit the Opposition’s ability to hold the government’s feet to the fire, called for a vote on a procedural matter before C-17 could be debated, a stalling tactic that delayed the budget speech by nearly half an hour.

“The reason for this vote is that if the Liberals have their way, this will be the last budget where the Opposition will be able to hold them to account,” Conservative MP Candice Bergen told the House.

The delay used up all the time allotted for debate of Bill C-17.

On March 23, the issue was raised in the House when Bergen accused Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett of crossing the floor and intimidating her when she’d called for the vote the day before.

Bennett responded that she’d crossed the floor to show Bergen that Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston were in the gallery.

She said they were “particularly disappointed that the debate on a very important bill, Bill C-17, did not take place because of the games that were being played in the House.”

Later, NDP MP Murray Rankin raised the issue again. He said Bennett’s frustration about the delay was misplaced.

“The government made the decision to try to shoehorn the debate on Bill C-17 into the tiny 30-minute window before the budget,” he said. “It was not the Opposition that did that.”

Rankin then called for the bill to be debated March 24 instead. “Let us just get on with it,” he said.

His motion didn’t pass.

There’s now no indication of when the bill will go through second reading.

Silver told the News the gallery was “packed” with Yukoners hoping to hear the debate on Wednesday. “It’s time to get this bill passed so that we can actually finally turn the page,” he said.

Bill C-17 would repeal four controversial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act made when the Harper government passed Bill S-6 in June 2015.

The provisions imposed timelines on assessments and allowed permit renewals and amendments without new assessments. They also allowed the federal minister to give binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, and to delegate authority to a territorial minister.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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