There has been recent dialogue around Bill S-6, a bill to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act (YESAA) as well as the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
As a matter of history, YESAA was borne out of Chapter 12 of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which called for the establishment, through federal legislation, of a development assessment process that would apply on all lands within Yukon: federal, territorial, First Nation and privately held.
The Yukon Chamber of Mines has provided longstanding support to the settlement of the Umbrella Final Agreement. As Yukoners, we believe that the UFA would provide certainty for industry and was the next step in respect to the evolution of First Nations governments.
Section 188.8.131.52 of Chapter 12 of the UFA calls for the creation of development assessment legislation that “avoids duplication in the review process for projects and, to the greatest extent practicable, provides certainty to all affected parties and project proponents with respect to procedures, information requirements, time requirements and costs”
Over the past decade, the legislative and regulatory regime in Yukon had evolved to a point where certainty and fair process were its hallmarks, and industry was able to make a valuable socio-economic contribution to Yukon. However, the YESAA process has become an unnecessarily strong deterrent to investment.
Recently, there has been little change to the regulatory and legislative regime, therefore the proposed changes have come from an increasingly stringent and time-consuming interpretation and administration of the existing YESAA process.
As an example of the costs involved in the assessment process, a major mining project has spent $18 million over five years preparing for their environmental assessment that has yet to have a decision rendered.
Another company that received approval to proceed from YESAB, after a two-year assessment process, was then unable to obtain a water permit. And yet another company has found itself having to go through the YESAA process nine times on the same application for a modification in location of activities.
Do these examples represent the certainty and efficiency originally envisioned under the UFA?
Today’s responsible resource extraction projects provide numerous benefits for communities, citizens and the environment alike. In light of the current YESAA five-year review process, it reminds us of the need for legislative and regulatory improvements to prevent this punitive process from heading down a potentially destructive path.
YESAA was once known as one of the most progressive environmental assessment processes in Canada. We are concerned that this is no longer the case. There is an interesting correlation to consider when Yukon finds itself dropping out of the top 10 friendly mining jurisdictions to 19th in the Fraser Institute rankings due in part to interpretation of existing regulations.
To date, the chamber of mines’ submissions to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as well as the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources have focused on key priorities to improve timelines and certainty, in the hopes that this process continues to protect the outstanding values of citizens and the environment. It is our hope that these changes will enable projects and proponents to provide long lasting socio-economic contributions to Yukon and its communities.
Yukon Chamber of Mines