I would like to sincerely thank all of you who came out to the Nov. 13 public forum hosted by a coalition of Yukon First Nations on the proposed changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act through Bill S-6. Over 160 people packed the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre’s multi-purpose room. Sadly, some people were turned away because the room was full.
It was a clear signal that Yukoners care about this issue.
YESAA was born from the Umbrella Final Agreement and all of the 11 self-governing Yukon First Nations final agreements. It was a central part of the land claims treaty process to ensure First Nations continued to have a meaningful role in decision-making that affected traditional territories. This, and the regional land use planning provisions of our treaties, was to give some assurance that our interests and rights would be protected in exchange for only a small percentage of land as settlement lands.
As was discussed at the forum, the treaties are not just for Yukon First Nations, they are for all Yukoners, and everyone in the Yukon benefits from them. We, as Yukoners, need to ensure our land, water and communities will be protected now and into the future. The YESAA was designed to strike a careful balance between development and protecting the environment, our economy and our communities. Yukon First Nations have always been in support of development and continue to do so, but it needs to be done right.
Last week’s forum confirmed that a great number of Yukoners share Yukon First Nations’ concerns but have not had the opportunity to be involved in any of these discussions. Canada and Yukon failed to consult with the Yukon public on these changes. This is the reason we hosted this forum: to provide Yukoners an opportunity to have a say. The public has not had the opportunity to give the federal or territorial governments their views on YESAA since 2008/2009 during the early stages of the five-year review.
We continue to be perplexed as to how the Yukon government can continue to support these changes when many of the amendments that will fundamentally change YESAA have only been discussed behind closed doors without consulting their constituents. This support is clearly evident through Premier Darrell Pasloski’s presentation to the Senate committee on Sept. 23, the motion tabled in the Yukon legislature on Nov. 12 and the news release issued on Nov. 18. Premier Pasloski and his government continue to support these changes despite the concerns of the public and Yukon First Nations.
The forum was not only to let people know what our concerns were with these amendments and why they will harm the Yukon, our environment and our economy, but was also an opportunity for Yukoners to express their unease.
A quick summary of the changes to YESAA we oppose include: imposing maximum timelines for assessments; excluding projects from assessment when they are going through regulatory renewals or amendments; giving the federal minister the power to dictate binding policy direction to the assessment board (a board that was designed to be independent, neutral and arms-length from governments); and giving the minister the authority to delegate powers to a territorial minister without our consent or engagement. None of these amendments arise from the five-year review, and there was little to no opportunity for meaningful discussion or willingness to accommodate our issues.
We also hosted the public forum because we believe it is important that people know the facts. There have been a lot of misunderstandings and misleading or incorrect statements made about these amendments. We want to set the record straight. For those of you that could not attend, or anyone looking for more detail, we strongly encourage you to visit the CYFN web page for further information.
We continue to strive for a collaborative relationship with both Canada and Yukon governments. Addressing these issues will require leadership, political will and honourable statesmanship. It is not acceptable to walk away when the discussions get tough or when there are differing perspectives. We need to work through these. We continue to hope that we can address these important matters in a constructive and meaningful way.
This should be done with all Yukoners. Time is running short. Bill S-6 has already been through the Senate and is now before the House of Commons, awaiting second reading. The bill will likely be sent to a parliamentary committee. These committees can travel to hear the views of witnesses throughout the country. We hope the committee comes to Yukon to hear from Yukoners.
We encourage Yukoners to reach out to their elected representatives to share their views or concerns on the changes to YESAA that threaten our land, our economy, our Yukon. Visit our web page at: www.cyfn/services/yesaa to learn how to contact your member of Parliament or request the House of Commons committee to hold its hearings in the Yukon.
Ruth Massie is grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.