The Council of Yukon First Nations is criticizing the federal government over proposed changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment laws.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie says the government is trying to shorten assessment timelines and increase ministerial influence on what is supposed to be an independent process in amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act recently received for second reading in the Senate.
Until last week the proposed changes were a tightly-held secret.
In a statement this week, Massie says the CYFN was not told about some of the changes that are now seen in the draft, even though it has been involved in the bill’s development since 2012.
The council says that changes to how assessment timelines are calculated will cause “major problems.” They say Canada promised not to do it.
“It’s an about-face,” Massie said in a statement.
“We have been engaged in this Canada-led initiative since early 2012 and were assured throughout the process that the adequacy review would not be included in the assessment timeline. Bill S-6 clearly reads otherwise.”
The grand chief was not available for interviews, but has told other news outlets that CYFN may sue over the changes.
The council says that the federal government only seeked input on the revisions from five groups: the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Mining Association of Canada, the Yukon Chamber of Mines, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.
“Yukoners should be outraged that nobody, not even Yukon government, is asking their opinions about an assessment regime that will directly affect them and their families,” Massie said. “Where’s the transparency? Where’s the honesty? Where’s the responsibility?”
Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, would not comment on whether Massie’s assessment of the situation is accurate.
The assessment board is responsible for administering the act but was not a part of the creation of any of the legislation, he said. That’s left up to CYFN, the federal government and the Yukon government. Members of the assessment board only attended the meetings as observers.
“All we did was say, ‘OK, looking at some of these amendments there may be some administrative difficulties.’ We presented those to the parties and those parties either accepted or rejected them,” he said.
“The three parties are the ones who will negotiate the changes to the act, not us.”
McKinnon said that some of the concerns that were raised by YESAB in private meetings are addressed in the changes as they read currently.
He wouldn’t go into detail about which concerns were addressed and which were not.
“There are some that, if the act doesn’t change, that we’ll be presenting comments to the Senate committee if we’re asked,” he said.
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