Environmental assessment bill returns to Parliament unchanged

First Nations are disappointed that a federal bill to amend Yukon's environmental assessment legislation will head back to Parliament without amendment.

First Nations are disappointed that a federal bill to amend Yukon’s environmental assessment legislation will head back to Parliament without amendment.

A parliamentary committee travelled to Whitehorse in March to hear directly from Yukoners about their concerns with Bill S-6.

Representatives from eight individual First Nations as well at the Council of Yukon First Nations expressed their unanimous rejection of four controversial pieces of the legislation.

They reiterated their intention to sue Canada if the bill passes as proposed.

Still, in a meeting this week Conservative committee members used their majority to vote down proposed amendments. As a result the bill will return to the House for the reporting stage unchanged.

“We’re disappointed that the committee refused to make any of these changes, even though we’ve laid out clearly that it undermines our final agreements,” said Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough yesterday.

The controversial bits of the proposed legislation would allow a federal minister to give binding policy direction to Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board and delegate responsibilities to the territorial minister. They would also give the Yukon government new powers to exempt projects from assessment in the event of a licence renewal or amendment, and impose new end-to-end timelines for assessments.

Fairclough asked why the committee would bother travelling to Whitehorse if they were unwilling to consider amendments to the legislation.

“We’re really disappointed with this whole process, with the standing committee. We spent a lot of time and effort prepping for it. It cost our First Nation governments money to do this.”

The federal government spent a lot to host the meeting, too, he said.

“That’s a lot of money spent – taxpayers’ dollars – to do this. Why did they do it in the first place if they weren’t going to make any changes at all, or take us seriously?”

He also criticized Yukon MP Ryan Leef for not attending the committee meeting.

Leef, who is not normally a member of the committee, arranged to sub in for one of the Conservative members for the Whitehorse hearings, but did not do so for this week’s voting meeting.

“Obviously I have a number of commitments, including two committees on those days that that committee sits,” said Leef on Wednesday. “Being able to readjust an entire schedule to sit in on the clause-by-clause was both short timeline notice for me and very difficult to do.”

Leef also mentioned that he met with CYFN Grand Chief Ruth Massie for an hour on the day of the meetings.

“I think it’s important for Yukoners to know that their political leadership is still very much engaged in this,” he said. “We are having positive and proactive discussions and we’re working on a pathway forward.”

Those comments are misleading, said Fairclough, because the committee meeting took place in the morning, and the meeting with Massie was in the afternoon.

Even if there had been a conflict, Massie would surely have preferred to see Leef attend the meeting, he said.

“I’m sure that the grand chief would say, ‘Go take the vote, represent us,’ and not hold him back for that. He’s making all kinds of excuses and he’s not telling the Yukon public what really happened.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at