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Bill S 6: What could possibly go wrong?

One of the wonderful things about the Yukon is the diversity of our political leaders. There's our Conservative MP, Ryan Leef. Our Conservative Senator, Daniel Lang.

One of the wonderful things about the Yukon is the diversity of our political leaders. There’s our Conservative MP, Ryan Leef. Our Conservative Senator, Daniel Lang. And our one-time Conservative candidate and current premier, Darrell Pasloski.

Put this trio together and you get such a stimulating range of views, resulting in some impressively well-reasoned decisions.

Case in point: all three have cheered on this week’s passage of Bill S-6 through Parliament. This law will introduce some changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment process that few people in the mining industry seem to believe are terribly important. The trade-off? Well, Yukon chiefs have sworn will result in another bloody, long-running lawsuit that has the potential of paralyzing every potential mining project in the territory.

Naturally enough, our leaders have pushed ahead with the disputed changes, come hell or high water.

This, at a glance, may seem a little odd. After all, this decision comes at a time when the mining industry is already hobbled by low metal prices. Capstone’s Minto mine remains limping along as the territory’s sole remaining hardrock operation, and its boss has warned that passing Bill S-6 would result in the “end in mining in the Yukon” by casting uncertainty over the territory’s entire assessment regime.

But this doesn’t seem to bother our Conservative triumvirate, so who are we to worry? Perhaps there is some reassurance to be found in the fact that a big chunk of the Yukon is already effectively off-limits to mineral exploration, thanks to the Peel watershed battle and other resource disputes. If the rest ends up off the table, is that really that big of a deal?

Or think about it this way. The territorial government is already fighting over resource issues with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the Nacho Nyak Dun, the Vuntut Gwitchin, the Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, White River First Nation, Taku River Tlingit First Nation, and probably a few other First Nations that we’re forgetting at the moment. At this point, the rest may as well join in. Maybe the thinking is that all-inclusive investment uncertainty hanging across the whole territory makes things a little tidier and easier to understand.

Bill S-6’s controversial changes serve to put more power in the hands of the federal and territorial governments. This has only been accomplished thanks to many courageous decisions made on our Conservative trio’s part.

They began, wisely enough, by deciding to keep the whole matter a secret to the public, by deeming the details of proposed law confidential until the moment it was tabled in the Senate one year ago. After all, why should the broader public deserve to know about changes to the territory’s laws that govern how the social and environmental impacts of mining projects are weighed?

First Nations thought they enjoyed a privileged position at the negotiation table, until the controversial changes were run by them at the last minute. For reasons that remain a mystery, chiefs became strangely upset to learn important decisions had been made without them, and they were simply expected to simply nod and agree. If this isn’t meaningful consultation, what is? Surely when chiefs extinguished their claims to much of the Yukon in exchange for modern treaties, this is precisely the sort of collaborative partnership they had in mind.

Faced with a growing public uproar, Leef moved to allay concerns by promising that a parliamentary hearing on the matter would be held in Whitehorse. Conservative committee members spent a day listening to Yukoners’ many concerns, then did as you would expect, and refused to change a single word in the proposed law. Why mess with perfection?

Premier Darrell Pasloski has modestly suggested he had little role to play in this affair, but that’s just him being humble. In reality, our premier was the one who proposed most of the last-minute changes that have prompted the ruckus. And, as he does lead the Yukon government, you would think that he would have some sway over the federal government’s position. His take has been admirably clear all along: the controversial changes must not be changed, no matter what.

Instead, Pasloski has proposed that aggrieved chiefs could sit down for a chit-chat after the bill becomes law, and they could try to hash out their differences them. Maybe this meeting could occur shortly after he and the chiefs amiably resolve the Peel watershed dispute while playing a quick nine holes of golf.