Premier Dennis Fentie has vowed to appeal a recent Yukon Supreme Court decision that revealed the territory’s failure to properly consult First Nations on land matters.
That’s going to be a very long and expensive process.
There is an easier way.
Fentie should simply don his reading glasses, sink into his favourite chair and review the consultation protocols he signed with 10 First Nations since 2003.
They lay out the rules the two governments will follow when consulting one another. (They can be viewed at www.eco.gov.yk.ca/landclaims/consultation_protocol.html).
They are fairly detailed.
And, clearly, they are not being followed by his government.
If they were, the Yukon Supreme Court would not have ruled as it did in the case of an agricultural lease in the traditional territory of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
The Yukon government has an obligation to consult with aboriginal leaders.
Fentie has acknowledged that responsibility in protocols he has personally signed.
“The parties intend the following procedures to be followed for all consultations except where, by prior agreement between them, the procedures may be modified to address specific circumstances,” reads the document Fentie signed with the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation on October 17, 2003.
It goes on to state how the notice of consultation will be sent and received, and what that notice will contain, including expected activities, timelines, expectations and limitations on the consultation.
It is pretty clear.
It is also clear Fentie’s government isn’t following those deals.
If it were, it wouldn’t have lost the Supreme Court case.
So, like it or not, the Yukon government is obligated to consult First Nations when it is considering economic development projects near aboriginal communities.
The process is clear.
And, if the process is followed, the First Nation can’t object.
If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, then the Yukon government can still do what it wants on Crown land. There is no veto.
But there aren’t any shortcuts either.
If the Yukon government doesn’t properly consult — which it hasn’t — then there are probably going to be lawsuits.
And those lawsuits are going to delay business ventures, costing time and money.
As well, they are going to erode business confidence in the territory, costing it needed investment.
Doing business in the territory shouldn’t be a crapshoot.
If you are willing to expend the money and effort to plough a farm, log a forest, dig minerals or suck natural gas from the ground, you should know that, once you’ve got the necessary government permits, you can begin your venture.
That’s what the term “certainty” is all about.
By failing to follow the rules his government laid out it in its own consultation protocols, Fentie has damaged business certainty in the territory.
His wrongheaded appeal of the Yukon Supreme Court ruling is going to allow that uncertainty to drag on for years.
It would be better for everyone if Fentie’s government simply conducted meaningful talks with First Nation leaders. (RM)