Casino urges compromise on environmental assessment changes

The president of Casino Mining Corp. has urged the government of Canada to compromise with First Nations over planned environmental assessment rule changes.

The president of Casino Mining Corp. has urged the government of Canada to compromise with First Nations over planned environmental assessment rule changes.

The federal government is currently debating amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment act.

First Nations oppose four of the amendments, and say they’ll sue if the bill passes as drafted.

So far, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt has shown little appetite for compromise.

The Casino letter urges him to reconsider, and expresses concern about “the fragility of intergovernmental relations in the Yukon surrounding Bill S-6 and the negative impact this is having on the territory’s mineral industry.”

The company is currently in the environmental review process for it’s $2.5 billion Casino mine, the largest development project ever proposed in the Yukon.

The project falls in the traditional territory of three Yukon First Nations.

“Casino believes that if the YESAA has the full support of all level of government, it will provide greater certainty for the mineral industry,” wrote Casino president Paul West-Sells.

“To this end, we encourage Canada, Yukon, and Yukon First Nation governments to engage, work collaboratively and find a solution to address the outstanding issues within Bill S-6.”

It appears that some of the amendments opposed by First Nations were suggested by the Yukon government.

In a Dec. 2012 letter to the Aboriginal Affairs minister, Premier Darrell Pasloski outlined amendments that Yukon would like to see made to its environmental assessment legislation.

The letter asks for the federal minister to have the power to issue policy direction to the assessment board, and to delegate responsibilities to the territorial minister.

These suggestions were not discussed in the mandated five-year review of the legislation, but were included in Bill S-6.

When asked this week why these changes were put forward without input from First Nations or Yukoners, Pasloski deflected to the federal government.

“This consultation process is Canada’s consultation process, this is federal legislation and it is being driven by the government of Canada. So they are responsible for the consultation that occurs.”

First Nations say these amendments undermine the spirit and intent of their final agreements by shifting the tripartite process that is the foundation of those land claim deals.

“We compromised all the way through this process,” said Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough on the phone from Ottawa Tuesday. “In the five-year review, we had a lot of issues with many of the recommendations in there, but we said we could live with them.

“The four issues that were inserted right at the end, they really came from the Yukon government. We were surprised at that because the premier is saying he’s not defending the bill, but in fact his position has been included in the bill.”

A number of First Nation chiefs are in Ottawa this week lobbying for changes to the bill.

They met with Valcourt on Monday, shortly before debate on the amendments began.

“The minister shut us down by telling us we are ‘not real governments’ and therefore he does not need to make us active participants in changing legislation that arises from our treaties,” Fairclough said in a press release Wednesday. “This flies in the face of recent court decisions that have affirmed the duty to consult First Nations. It is an insult and a signal to First Nations everywhere that our views don’t count.”

In the House, Valcourt said he looks forward to the continued participation of First Nations through the parliamentary process.

“I want to acknowledge their important contributions to the development of this bill,” he said.

Valcourt introduced the bill to Parliament on Monday. He said that the amendments will strengthen Yukon’s ability to compete in an increasingly globalized world and help ensure long-term prosperity for Canada’s North.

Consultation on the bill has been extensive, and he sees no conflict between the proposed changes and First Nation agreements, he said.

“I’m still waiting for anyone to show me where these violate the Umbrella Final Agreement.”

Yukon MP Ryan Leef asked Valcourt to reassure the House and Yukoners that there are specific provisions that ensure that this is the case.

Valcourt responded that yes, the act specifically spells out that, in the event of a conflict, the Umbrella Final Agreement will prevail.

Dennis Bevington, NDP MP for the Northwest Territories, said that the only way to resolve such a conflict would be through a legal challenge.

“We’re ending up with another bill that will end up in the courts,” he said. “Why is this government moving in this direction?”

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones similarly criticized the government for yet another piece of legislation that is “off side” from the wishes of First Nations.

Valcourt responded that the government of Canada believes that nothing in the bill violates agreements with First Nations, and that adequate consultation has occurred.

If First Nations disagree, “they are welcome to use the court,” he said.

“That’s the genius of this great country of ours.”

Bevington also criticized the government for not consulting with Yukoners on the controversial parts of the bill. Democracy requires the participation of the public, he said.

The government of Canada has not sought the input of Yukoners to date on most of the contents of Bill S-6, including all of the amendments opposed by First Nations.

Bevington called the government’s actions “attack on Yukoners’ democratic rights and the constitutional rights of First Nations.”

Leef has recently voiced his support to send the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the bill to the Yukon to hear from the public.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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