Federal Bill S-6, which includes controversial amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime, passed second reading in Parliament on Wednesday.
Under protest from opposition parties, the Conservative government moved to limit debate on the bill, forcing it to a vote before the end of the sitting day.
“We are seeing with the bill on the Yukon a growing tide of reaction from people in the Yukon Territory who are saying that they are very concerned about the bill, that it deserves appropriate scrutiny, and that there has not been appropriate consultation,” said NDP MP Peter Julian.
Conservative members pointed to Yukon’s fall in the Fraser Institute’s ranking of mining jurisdictions – from first to ninth – as justification for the urgency of getting the bill through Parliament.
“The leaders, communities, and workers in the Yukon are concerned,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
“They see that the regulatory regime in the Northwest Territories has been changed to be in line with the one south of 60, and this is exactly what this would do for Yukon and Nunavut. It is really important and urgent that we pass this legislation so that Yukoners and the people in Nunavut can get the same benefits as other jurisdictions in the North.”
Yukon’s MP Ryan Leef was absent from the House on Wednesday.
Instead, he was in Washington D.C. for meetings of the Standing Committee on Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, of which he is a member.
Those meetings are dealing with “some very important stuff,” with regards to economic development, climate change and other issues that affect the Arctic, Leef said on the phone from Ottawa Friday morning.
He spoke at the second reading of S-6 back when it reached that stage in December, which would have prevented him from speaking to it further this week anyhow, he said.
Pushing the bill through second reading gives the time for amendments to be properly considered by committee, which is the stage at which the public has the most opportunity for input, said Leef.
“There really isn’t a lot of time left in the 41st Parliament.”
Yukon First Nations continue to oppose four controversial amendments in the legislation.
Those would give the federal minister new powers to give binding policy orders to the assessment board, give that minister powers to delegate responsibility to the territorial minister, allow a decision body to determine if a project needs to undergo a review in the event of a change to the project or licence renewal, and set overall assessment timelines for projects.
“We are disappointed that Bill S-6 has passed second reading and that such a short time was allowed for discussion and debate in the House of Commons,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie in a news release yesterday. “And we were surprised to learn that our Yukon member of Parliament, Ryan Leef, was not present and did not vote on this bill that will so significantly impact all Yukoners.”
The First Nations have said they will sue the government if the controversial sections of the bill pass as they are written.
With the bill past second reading, it is now in the hands of the standing committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
That committee has committed to hold public meetings in the Yukon as part of its consideration of the bill. The hearing has been scheduled for March 30, said Leef.
After that, it will receive a final vote in Parliament.
Victor Kisoun, a young Yukoner who is seeking to run for the NDP in the next federal election, said he was disturbed by the government’s move to limit debate on the bill.
“We’ve seen them do this many times, and it’s a political manoeuvre to prevent debate they deem harmful to them,” he said in an interview this week.
“Yukon First Nations know what’s in their best interests and they stated it unequivocally in terms of their opposition to their amendments,” said Kisoun, who is of Kaska Dena, Vuntut Gwitchin and Inuvialuit heritage.
The government needs to abandon these amendments and work towards reconciliation with First Nations, he said.
“To go in … and make these broad, sweeping amendments, that totally sets back the relationship another eight years.
“If we can have a better relationship with First Nations people, we can start to create certainty within our territories and our provinces for investment.”
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