Yukon’s First Nations received more than adequate consultations during the creation of proposed changes to the territory’s environmental assessment regime, says MP Ryan Leef.
A coalition of Yukon’s First Nations say otherwise. They are threatening to sue if Bill S-6, which would amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, proceeds as is. The bill has been tabled in Parliament, after recently clearing the Senate.
First Nations assert that some changes were made in a secretive manner and without adequate consultation. They say some of the changes undermine the spirit of the territory’s land claim agreements by ceding new powers to the Canadian and Yukon governments.
The First Nations will host a public meeting on the changes tomorrow evening from 7-9 p.m. at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.
Leef disagrees with these criticisms. During an interview on Monday, he said he’s seen a “tremendous” amount of correspondence between the federal government, the council and respective First Nation chiefs.
“With all due respect, the notion that comments were ignored simply because they weren’t included doesn’t mean they were ignored,” he said.
“The council’s comments were considered and reviewed but there just wasn’t agreement with their comments. When one side or the other doesn’t get absolutely everything they want, there is this notion that consultation didn’t occur or there wasn’t enough of it.
“Consultation doesn’t always equate to getting everything you want.”
Leef points to an earlier five-year review of Yukon’s environmental assessment laws that involved the public, industry and other groups. It led to a draft report prepared by First Nations, the Yukon government and Ottawa in the summer of 2011.
All parties agreed to some recommendations, but some issues were left unresolved.
Yukon First Nations assert that the review process was never completed, because solutions were never found to these issues. First Nations say this report is misleading, in that it ignores First Nations’ concerns and was used to claim the review was completed in October 2012.
Leef said the focus should be on whether the proposed changes in the legislation comply with the Umbrella Final Agreement or not.
During testimony they provided to the Senate committee, lawyers for the council agreed that in any conflicts resulting between the act and the UFA, the UFA would prevail, he said.
“There’s nothing that will directly impact the spirit or the intention of the UFA,” Leef said.
“I don’t think at any particular point they were arguing that there wasn’t sufficient consultations on certain portions of the proposed legislation but the four key points they brought forward. When you look at the number of recommendations that came forward during the review, a vast majority of them were accepted.”
Yukon’s First Nations have four main objections, which include changes that would give the federal minister authority to delegate powers to the territorial minister.
Leef said that First Nations will have more opportunities to voice their concerns as the bill passes through first, second and third reading in Parliament.
“If the process is flawed and there is contention with it, then I’m keen to focus on that. Let’s find a way to define consultation,” he said.
“What is sufficient consultation? Is it 80 per cent? Is it x amount of hours? There is a bit of a subjective value to consultation.
“At some point either or both sides have to recognize there may be a decision made that doesn’t please everybody.”
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