The Senate of Canada has unanimously passed a bill that will amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
Bill S-6 includes a plethora of changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime, including many amendments agreed to by federal, territorial and First Nation governments during a mandated review of the act.
But some changes came as a surprise to First Nations, prompting them to threaten legal action if the bill proceeds unamended.
Representatives of the Council of Yukon First Nations presented to the Senate committee responsible for reviewing the bill last month.
They outlined several areas that they say would be inconsistent with First Nation final agreements if passed.
In response to those concerns, the committee added an observation to Bill S-6 for the consideration of Parliament.
“The committee notes the concerns raised around the issue of delegation of authority and urges the government to ensure that any delegation of authority to the territorial government be in keeping with the Umbrella Final Agreement signed with Yukon First Nations,” it reads.
Delegation of authority was only one of the areas of concern raised by the First Nations.
They also raised the issue of decision bodies (usually the Yukon government) being able to decide if a project requires an assessment, rather than spelling out clear thresholds through regulation.
The amendments would give the federal minister the power to give policy direction to the board, which has to this point been an independent body.
And time limits proposed in the new rules could hurt the ability of First Nations to participate meaningfully in the process, according to the First Nations’ presentation to the committee.
In his speech for the bill’s third reading, Yukon Senator Dan Lang said these amendments will streamline the process for the mining industry and others.
“One of the issues that was raised with me in regards to the challenges with the existing regulatory regime is that mining projects already granted approval and permits are often subject to new environmental assessments for only minor changes to projects.
“Several projects that have been put on hold or even or abandoned altogether due to this requirement – resulting in lost jobs and economic opportunities.”
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board disputes that projects are being reassessed for minor changes.
Only new activities are assessed, and they are assessed only if they meet thresholds set out in the regulations, according to the board.
A hearing intended for the board to present directly to the committee was cancelled just a few days before the scheduled meeting.
The bill must now go through the parliamentary review process before it can be signed into law.
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