by Ryan Leef
Bill S-6, more commonly known as the Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act, has generated a fair bit of discussion in Yukon. Rightfully so, it is after all the legislative mechanism to oversee our environmental and socio-economic responsibilities to the Yukon as established under the Umbrella Final Agreement.
As such, Yukon residents deserve the facts of the bill itself. Bill S-6 came about as a result of the five-year review embedded in the Yukon Environmental Socio-Economic Assessment Act, which began in 2008. This review was extended for additional two years and was a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of the Yukon development assessment process. Seventy six recommendations were made at the end of the review. Seventy two of these 76 were agreed to jointly by all parties, including Yukon First Nations. Some of these recommendations were addressed through administrative changes, some required legislative amendments and are now included in Bill S-6.
Over the course of the five-year review, Yukon First Nations were included in the consultation and $425,000 was provided to them so they could participate fully in this process.
In 2012, as a part of the government’s northern regulatory regimes improvements, changes to YESSA were contemplated to include consistency across regimes. These amendments, as noted by Yukon First Nations, were not part of the five-year review. An additional $105,000 was provided to Yukon First Nations between 2013 and 2014 to consult on these additional pieces not considered during the five-year review period.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie has stated publicly that no consultation occurred on the additions outside of the five-year review. I have viewed and confirmed the list of meetings, calls, correspondence, and indeed financial assistance billed to Canada by Yukon First Nations for consultations and can conclude that consultation did occur and $105,000 was provided for Yukon First Nation participation.
It is the position of Canada, while there may not be agreement on all parts, consultation did occur. In fact, this is the same conclusion Liberal Critic Senator Grant Mitchell came to during Senate hearings on Bill S-6 and the same conclusion Liberal Senator Massicote came to when assessing the concern in respect to consultation.
My role as Yukon’s member of Parliament is to ensure full and fair consideration of all perspectives on an issue. Of course, like most legislation, there are various perspectives on S-6. It is my view, that Yukon First Nations have a significant stake in the environmental review process, which is clearly outlined in the UFA, self-government agreements, YESSA and S-6. As such I strongly advocated for the aboriginal affairs committee to travel to Yukon, and further ensured that all First Nations were individually invited to testify.
During the first round of committee hearings held here in Ottawa this week I was diligent in asking our federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development about the four areas of concern raised by Yukon First Nations.
1. Delegation of federal powers to Yukon government. Section 2.11.8 of the Umbrella Final Agreement clearly states that the government may determine how and by whom any power or authority of a minister set out in a settlement agreement shall be exercised. This is what the YESSA legislation is doing.
2. Policy direction to the board. The minister cannot interfere with assessments as policy direction first would have to be consistent with the land claims agreements and legislation. The Umbrella Final Agreement provides a blanket authority in section 126.96.36.199 for development assessment legislation to provide for any matter required to implement the development assessment process, and this authority would include policy direction.
3. Timelines for YESAA assessments. The Umbrella Final Agreement is protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act. It is the law of the land in Yukon.
4. Exemptions for renewal and amendments. The First Nations will continue to be able to trigger reviews or assessments on their traditional territory if they feel it is necessary. The amendments to YESSA do not affect these rights. A review of the legislation can be initiated any time as appropriate.
The minister addressed each of the concerns, which I posed on behalf of Yukon First Nations, and highlighted in clear terms where sections of the bill, constitutional protections, and the UFA remain the law of the land and should satisfy the specific points raised. Furthermore, the minister referred consistently to the UFA as a guiding document in his decision-making and authorities as exercised in Bill S-6.
As invited in previous meetings here in Ottawa with Yukon First Nations, the minister re-affirmed his commitment to consider any hard evidence that pointed to where this legislation would violate their rights.
There is a benefit for all Yukoners with YESAA. Indeed, there are a number of municipal community-based projects, private land ownership projects that go through the YESAA process. This isn’t just about resource development activities. YESAA is a bill designed to protect the socio-economic fabric of the Yukon.
This last piece of the strategy to reform accomplishes that. That, we expect, will result in more opportunities for Yukoners. This is at the heart of this bill.
Ryan Leef is Yukon’s member of Parliament.