Senator Dan Lang says amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime will strengthen the territory.
“This will set the foundation for our economy in the next number of years to come,” said Lang in an interview last week.
Bill S-6, now in front of a Senate committee, will legislate maximum timelines for project assessments, among other changes.
Members of the mining industry, First Nations and opposition parties have criticized the federal government for developing the amendments behind closed doors, without public review.
But Lang said there was plenty of opportunity for input leading up to the stage where the bill was drafted.
“I think in this case there has been ample, ample discussion at the preliminary stages which, to my knowledge has never taken place before to the extent that this has taken place,” said Lang. “The government of Canada was very, very conscientious, I know, in ensuring that they fulfilled and more than fulfilled their duty to consult with respect to First Nations.”
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act underwent a significant public review beginning in 2008, and the amendments flow from that work, said Lang.
“There has been a significant, significant discussion amongst all the parties with respect to the proposed amendments.”
First Nations were privy to draft amendments before they were tabled on the condition of secrecy. But that doesn’t mean they got what they wanted.
The Council of Yukon First Nations called the amendments an “about face” from what they had been consulted on for two years.
The specific area of contention was whether or not the adequacy review period should count towards the overall assessment timelines.
Under the tabled amendments, it does count. The council insists it was promised otherwise.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie has not responded to interview requests for this story.
The CYFN also alleges that, besides First Nations, the only groups consulted on the legislation were the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Mining Association of Canada, Yukon Chamber of Mines, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and 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,” said Massie in a news release. “Where’s the transparency? Where’s the honesty? Where’s the responsibility?”
Lang said the new legislated timelines will bring certainty to development projects in the Yukon.
“Hopefully we’ll never get into a situation again where some of these environmental hearings go on for years and years and years, and even then sometimes a decision or a definite decision isn’t taken.”
But the assessment board already has its own timelines for reviews. Although they are not set in legislation, they are followed diligently.
Under the new amendments, the board will have the ability to stop the clock when it is waiting for the project proponent to provide information it has requested.
That proponent time is a significant factor in how long an assessment will take overall.
Assessments of the Carmacks Copper mine and the Eagle Gold mine both took more than two years, but almost half of that time was when the board was waiting for information.
The amendments propose a 16-month cap for larger projects, excluding waiting time, and both of these projects met that benchmark.
The Mactung mine, which just received a new assessment report this week, has been tied up in assessment since 2008. As of press time data was unclear how much of that time was spent waiting for proponent information.
The tabled amendments also could give significantly more control over assessments to the Yukon government.
The federal minister would have the power to devolve all responsibilities to the territorial minister.
Also, the Yukon minister would determine if a new assessment is required when an existing project is modified.
That will be a change for the better, said Lang.
“Is it a good thing that decisions are made at the regional level? Yes. Look at the province of Alberta, look at the province of British Columbia. It’s to everybody’s advantage.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at email@example.com