The Yukon Chamber of Mines says the territory’s assessment board has “systemic flaws” and has shown it’s incapable of reviewing projects with “procedural consistency and clear timelines.”
But it insists that the controversial Bill S-6, which did impose fixed timelines on Casino and Northern Cross, isn’t relevant to this issue at all.
The chamber published a news release this week, responding to recent decisions by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board to bump two high-profile projects – Northern Cross’s oil-and-gas drilling project near Eagle Plains and the proposed Casino copper and gold mine – to higher levels of assessment.
The chamber’s executive director, Samson Hartland, pointed out that both projects had been in the assessment process for about two years when the decisions were made, which he called an “inordinate amount of time.”
“What we’ve seen in the last five years is a deterioration that’s crossed across all sectors, and regardless of the size of an application.”
He said there are other examples of YESAB taking longer than it should, including Holland America’s Yukon Queen II riverboat, which was pulled out of service in 2012 in part because the company saw no end in sight to an ongoing YESAB review process.
“It’s been a repeating pattern of behaviour here,” Hartland said. He also said he believes the public trust in YESAB is being eroded.
This has been a repeated refrain from the chamber of mines over the last several years. In October 2014, Hartland told the Senate committee reviewing proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act that mining companies felt they were being “assessed to death.”
At the time, he said the act was “very progressive when it was first introduced,” but had since become subject to “a very punitive type of interpretation.”
In June 2015, Bill S-6 became law, and fixed timelines were imposed on every project YESAB was assessing, including Casino and Northern Cross. The board was given nine months to review projects at the designated office level, like Northern Cross, and 16 months for those undergoing executive committee screening, including Casino. However, those timelines weren’t retroactive for projects already in the system, meaning the clock started for Northern Cross and Casino after June 2015, even though both proposals were submitted back in 2014.
Still, estimates from YESAB spokesperson Rob Yeomans show the board took just over eight months to assess Northern Cross’s proposal before referring the project to executive committee screening.
It took just over 11 months to decide that the Casino mine would need a panel review, the highest level of assessment. The amount of time the companies took to respond to requests from the board isn’t included in the timelines, which accounts for both projects stretching out over about two years.
That means that even if Bill S-6 timelines had been in place back in 2014, the process for Northern Cross and Casino might not have been any faster.
Hartland, however, said the issues he’s raising about efficiency, consistency and timelines have “nothing to do with S-6.”
“It’s not about the legislation, it’s about the culture,” he said. “You can’t legislate culture or interpretation.”
That’s quite a change in tone from a letter he published about Bill S-6 in the News in September 2014, which appeared to say just the opposite.
In light of often lengthy review processes, he wrote, “it reminds us of the need for legislative and regulatory improvements to prevent this punitive process from heading down a potentially destructive path.”
Hartland said the chamber will be raising its concerns with all levels of government in the coming weeks, and will be proposing solutions, though he wouldn’t say what those non-legislative solutions might be.
Statistics available from YESAB’s website do not appear to show any increase in the average time required to complete an assessment between 2011 and 2015, but do not include data from before 2011.
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell campaigned on a promise to repeal four controversial amendments in Bill S-6, including the fixed timelines. The Liberal government has yet to follow through on that promise.
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