The federal Liberal government will repeal controversial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was in Whitehorse Friday for an intergovernmental forum between the federal, territorial and First Nation governments.
There, a memorandum of understanding was signed outlining the steps to getting the law changed.
At issue are four contentious amendments to the act passed into law by the Harper Conservatives last year.
As part of Bill S-6, the amendments impose timelines on assessments and allow permit renewals and amendments without new assessments. They allow a federal minister to give binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and delegate authority to a territorial minister.
Yukon self-governing First Nations argued that Bill S-6 violates their self-governing agreement because it weakens their role in the assessment process. They’ve also said they weren’t properly consulted on the amendments.
Legislation to repeal the amendments will be introduced into the House of Commons no later than June 23, said Little Salmon Carmacks Chief Eric Fairclough.
After that there will be a round of consultations. Legislative changes are expected to pass during the fall session.
The federal Liberals campaigned this election on a promise to repeal the amendments.
“We, from the beginning, did not think it respected the final agreements,” Bennett said.
Fairclough thanked the minister for following through with the election promise.
Last year three Yukon First Nations filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the issue.
Fairclough said the lawsuit is on hold for now.
“Once it’s passed through the House of Commons then we know that we don’t have to go through a court case,” he said.
Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations also thanked Bennett for her work on the issue both prior to and since her appointment to the portfolio.
“We look forward to working with Canada and the Yukon on the reset MOU to get our relationship back on track,” he said.
“We look forward to working with Canada and Yukon to continue this work and take decisive action to repeal the concerning amendments as soon as possible.”
One person who made very little mention of Bill S-6 during the press conference was Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.
Instead the premier spoke mostly about other topics discussed at the intergovernmental forum.
Those included infrastructure, housing and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, he said.
It was only when asked about Bill S-6 that Pasloski repeated his position that the amendments were part of a federal government process.
The territorial government “will not be a barrier” to the changes proposed by the new federal government, he said.
When then-prime minister Stephen Harper came to the Yukon last year, he said that the disputed clauses in S-6 had, in fact, been proposed by the Yukon government.
Pasloski said on Friday that wasn’t the case. “I disagree with that,” he said, adding, “I think at this point that is irrelevant to this.”
But that wasn’t the last time Pasloski was asked about S-6. The issue continued to come up in the Yukon Legislative Assembly this week.
“Will the premier now acknowledge the damage that his unilateral attempts to undermine the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act caused, and apologize to Yukon First Nation governments, Yukon businesses and Yukon citizens?” asked Official Opposition Leader Liz Hanson.
The premier did not apologize. He again focused on the law being a federal creation.
“The federal government now chooses to make further amendments to that legislation and, as we have also said in this house, we will not be a barrier to those amendments.”
When Liberal Leader Sandy Silver brought up S-6 and asked if Pasloski would “take responsibility for the regulatory uncertainty raised by this government’s failed YESAA review” the premier ducked the question. Instead of answering he criticized Silver for his support of the federal Liberal party.
Last week was the first intergovernmental forum in the Yukon in nearly six years. At their inception these meetings were supposed to happen every six months, Bennett said.
“We are very keen that we will come back in six months.”
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