by Linda Leon
Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:
Bill S-6, which will amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, is now before Parliament. It was introduced through the unelected Senate, an allowable if questionable route for bills to take.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act is a carefully written document that respects First Nations, non-native citizens, the business community, the mining industry and future generations. The process of creating YESAA was transparent.
Bill S-6, meanwhile, was concocted through secret consultations between federal and territorial representatives and the mining community. First Nations were allowed to sit at the table but, if Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations is to be believed, their input was ignored. The public was not informed of the process nor was it welcome at the table.
Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the assessment board, had his invitation to testify before the Senate committee withdrawn because “appearance in person will not be necessary.”
When one vested interest has the ear of government and the majority of citizens are snubbed, we should be concerned about the impartiality of our governments.
One amendment allows new proposals by resource extraction industries to be covered by old assessment requirements, regardless of the size or scope of the new projects.
Bill S-6 changes regulatory authority in Yukon. As a check and balance, the assessment board was set up to be arms-length from the territorial government and, by extension, pressure from vested interest groups. Bill S-6 allows “the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with the authority to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board.” This subverts YESAA, the Umbrella Final Agreement and Yukon First Nations’ final agreements, which are interconnected. Giving authority to the federal government is a sideways maneuver to strip the assessment board of its immunity from influence.
Checks and balances were born out of an understanding that human beings are weak and that power corrupts. That is why they exist in democracies and not in corrupt authoritarian regimes.
Miners’ frustrations over what they see as bureaucratic slowness are understandable. Time delays over environmental assessments do cost money. However, miners’ claim that the length of time to receive approvals has increased in the last few years is not supported by facts.
Reasonable people would endorse Bill S-6 if they thought that it truly helped “improve the environmental review process.” However, there is little in Bill S-6 to support that idea. Bill S-6 is a poorly written document filled with verbiage and loopholes. Nothing in the bill directly addresses time delays for assessments. It merely removes the need for oversight of additional projects and allows a federal minister to override the assessment board.
I contend that Bill S-6 is designed to make the resource extraction industry less accountable for their actions thereby creating wealth at the expense of the environment and the social well-being of northerners.
This bill is regressive. Please do not support Bill S-6.
Linda Leon is a Whitehorse freelance writer.