The territory is once again pandering to the needs of big mining companies at the cost of the environment, the Opposition claims.
Kate White, the NDP’s environment critic, made the accusations in the wake of the government’s announcement that water monitoring and inspections at mine sites in the territory will now be the responsibility of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, not the Department of Environment.
“There’s a massive conflict of interest,” said White. “It’s the idea of the fox guarding the henhouse. It’s the idea that the cheerleader, the promoter, would also become the watchdog, the regulator.”
But the latest announcement is only a formality, said Currie Dixon, minister of environment.
His department hasn’t been in charge of water monitoring for placer mines since 2003, and inspections for the Minto mine were transferred to Energy, Mines and Resources in 2007, he said.
The switch makes the whole process more streamlined, said Dixon.
“We’re fulfilling the ‘one mine, one inspector approach,’” he said. “That prevents gaps and overlaps. It’s increasing efficiency, it makes a little bit more sense. It’s a rational approach to inspecting water use in mines.
“Water inspectors aren’t foxes or hens, they’re water inspectors. We trust that they’ll do that job with full integrity.”
But White isn’t criticizing the inspectors, she said. She’s criticizing the situation their bosses are putting them in.
“It’s putting the inspectors in a tough position. I think it’s compromising people,” she said. “Mining companies are multi-billion-dollar corporations. Exactly how far do we have to bend to help them out? This is an example of the Yukon Party government totally paying homage to the people who paid for their campaign.
“Streamlining the process – is it protecting you and me as Yukoners? Is this looking after our children’s best interest or is this looking after the best interests of the corporation that comes in, that stands to make billions of dollars, and we get like $100,000 a year in royalties? It’s incredible.”
White points to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Nova Scotia’s Westray coal mine disaster as examples to learn from.
The public inquiry into Westray even noted the “conflict of interest” in oversight as one of many factors that led to the “predictable disaster.”
But those examples are irrelevant, said Dixon.
“In those particular cases, there’s a whole number of things that went wrong and far beyond the oversight structure,” he said. “We’ve got confidence that the inspectors at EMR will do their jobs to the best of their ability and our job is to make sure that they’re well resourced, well trained and have the abilities and the tools to do their job, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
This change will not lead to any water inspectors at the Department of Environment losing their jobs, and they will continue to provide technical support to Energy, Mines and Resources when it comes to water licence enforcement, added Dixon.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at