The recently proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, now before Parliament, will be of great benefit for everyone in Yukon.
The negative responses gracing the pages of the media regarding the proposed YESAA changes are full of misinformation and political grandstanding. The proposed changes do not, in any way, advocate for diminished environmental protections.
Initially YESAA was working quite well due to the will to succeed and efficiency of the YESAA employees and Yukon government. However, recently it has turned into a time consuming, bureaucratic nightmare. The end result is a regulatory process which has become a strong deterrent to investment.
Unfortunately, the only way to get YESAA back on track is to mandate efficiency through legislative changes.
There is a proposed change to create a fixed beginning-to-end timeline, not to exceed nine months at a district office, 16 months at executive committee level and 18 months for a panel decision.
Keep in mind that these proposed timelines are for hard rock operations, as placer operations should only take a few months to make it through YESAA.
I remember attending a YESAA presentation about 10 years ago with the president of the Mining Association of Canada in which YESAA officials in attendance predicted a two-year timeline for the largest of projects. With this in mind, the president of MAC said he would recommend to his members to invest in the Yukon.
Unfortunately, without the proposed changes to improve YESAA timelines, it will continue to take much longer to permit here, and thus investment will go elsewhere.
Presently, getting YESAA approval plus quartz and water licences can take as many as five years.
The second recommended change relates to the need for re-assessments on non-significant modifications to a project. For example, a mine has already gone through the environmental assessment process and everything remains the same except they want to mine a different vein, a few metres over from original activities applied for. Currently, a proponent would have to go through the YESAA process all over again. This proposed amendment would allow YESAA officials the discretion to waive this requirement for a full blown assessment, when the original activities remain the same.
And finally, the delegation of federal authority to Yukon is also a good thing. Home grown decision making is what devolution was all about.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act went through a revamping in 2012 that left YESAA behind. When YESAA is touted as the leading edge of all environmental assessments in Canada, it stands to benefit from improvements and changes to its efficiency that bring it in line with CEAA. Once we can make the Yukon a competitive regulatory regime that is welcoming to investment, we all stand to benefit as Yukoners and Canadians.
Remember that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Yukoners, with our gold resource economy, did not suffer along with the rest of the world.